This Aussie family film about a boy’s dream to win the paper plane championships is not all plain sailing. While it soars effortlessly through the comedy, it hits turbulence in the more serious moments.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Zane Alexander
Ever since the first caveman ran screaming from a pterodactyl attack, man has dreamed of flight… OK, so I can’t be sure how or when our fascination began, but it shows no signs of waning. It’s been represented on screen since the moment the Wright Brothers took off in 1903, through dozens of war films, classic 1980’s films such as Flying High and Top Gun, and the more recent animated films, Planes and The Wind Rises. This time it’s inspired by a true story, as twelve year old Dylan (Ed Oxenbould) battles to win a spot at the Junior World Paper Plane Championships in Tokyo, but to get there he will have to win the Australian championship first, and battle his nerves and nemesis, Jason (Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke).
Set in a country town; the film was made here in WA with locations in Baldivis, and what looked to me like Guildford, as well as the Bull Creek Air Museum. Strangely, the film is set in the present, but the production design signals the 1970s, with old cars, houses and furniture, which prompts me to think it’s a nod to the childhood of director Robert Connolly.
The film begins with an easy and promising take off, and quickly climbs to hilarious heights. Oxenbould (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) has a natural talent, and an easy presence on screen. His scenes with school friend Kevin (Julian Dennison) are laugh-out-loud-joyful, and Dennison steals the movie with comedic delivery, and timing well beyond his years. Steering young Dylan through these early scenes is his larrikin grandfather (Terry Norris; Bellbird, Cop Shop). The film soars highest during a fanciful scene where the power of their imagination transports them back to war-time flight. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the message of the film; if we use our imagination, who knows how high we can soar?
Unfortunately, it’s not all plain sailing. Halfway through the film, Dylan meets competitor and love interest, Kimi (Ena Imai), and their scenes dip and sputter as she struggles in her film debut. There is a steady decline during the latter half, mostly due to a lack of scenes with Dylan’s grandfather or school friend, and it practically stalls mid-air during a clichéd montage of “lonely boy in faraway place”. It also nosedives every time Dylan’s father (Sam Worthington) appears on screen. He may be a depressed widower, but his performance barely engages.
Thankfully, it has a smooth landing, and looking back on the journey, there are many merits. Live action family films have become fewer since digital animation, so it’s a refreshing change to the cinematic landscape. The themes of following your dreams, standing up to bullies, and good sportsmanship are also worthwhile, and if it inspires kids to get off their phones and ipads, and go outside and create, then it’s definitely worth the ticket price.
I’m giving it three stars. With a few trimmed corners and sharper folds it could have reached greater heights.
Lands in cinemas on January 15.