STORM BOY – Admirable Retelling of a Wonderful Australian Story

Way back in 1977, when the original STORM BOY released, telling the Colin Thiele story from his quite popular 1964 novel, I was three years old. It was made for a budget of $320,000AUD and made over $2.5MIL at the box office. This was a roaring Australian box office success for the time. The best part of that is that it has been one of my favourite movies for now 41yrs!! I worship the original movie, I wanted to be a Pelican or Greg Rowe and I would run around as a child doing Fingerbone’s (David Gulpilil) tribal bird dance.

When I heard they were remaking it I was ecstatic – no harm in remaking a work of pure genius for this current generation. No kid in their single digits or early teens would be caught dead watching a film from 1977 unless it had lightsabers in it.

STORM BOY releases tomorrow, Thur 17th January 2019 in Australia from Sony Pictures Releasing. It is rated PG and runs for 88mins.

Storm Boy Finn Little and Mr Percival image
Finn Little and Mr Percival

BY JASON KING

STORM BOY SYNOPSIS:

When a highly successful retired businessman, Michael Kingley, starts to see things he at first can’t explain, his life takes a dramatic turn. And when his grand-daughter rebels against her father, he is forced to re-evaluate his life and to act to prevent her going down a similar path to one he took years before. He tells her his story, when as a boy he lived a lonely existence with his father, Hideaway Tom, on an isolated coastline and how a bond with an orphaned pelican, Mr. Percival, changed his life forever.

Storm Boy Trevor Jamieson and Finn Little image
Trevor Jamieson and Finn Little

A GOOD RETELLING BUT NOT A GREAT RETELLING:

There are a lot of new additions to the story and not many of them are fantastic sadly. The story is now told as a flashback retelling of Mike Kingley’s aka Storm Boys childhood. It brings in a strong environmental angle to make it current and shows Mike now as an elder man (played by the currently controversial Geoffrey Rush) who is a partner in a corporation about to sell some huge land that could see many species of animals displaced. Mike is old and doesn’t think too much of it until he starts having visions of his past and getting hassled by his granddaughter who appears to be the environmentalist of the family.

Once the story heads to the isolated coastal setting of the Storm Boy origin the film truly recaptures the magic but in all honesty the entire flashback and environmental angle seemed a little unnecessary. It only serves the purpose of providing the film with a current message and allowing the “wise old man” that the entire planet knows to have a starring role. Downside is that between filming and releasing Mr Rush’s public persona has taken a nosedive until his alleged indiscretions are sorted out. This may hurt the film to some extent.

I also found the hunting angle to be somewhat antiquated and something that would have been highly relevant in the 70s but not so much now UNTIL I looked it up and discovered a lot of birds are allowed to be hunted in South Australia in hunting season. This really surprised me and gave that angle some higher relevance.

Storm Boy Finn Little and Mr Percival image
Finn Little and Mr Percival

CHILDREN AND ANIMAL FRIENDSHIP BONDS:

But one thing that cannot be argued about; a children and animal friendship bond movie will always entertain and tug at your heart strings. And the Pelican/Boy relationship does make me all gooey on the inside again. The movie does go out of its way to humanise Mr Percival but then again he was raised in captivity.

The ending of Mike/ Storm Boy’s stay on the coast comes to an end from different forces this time. In the original and the book it is due to the pesky old educator who insists Mike attend a school. In this one it is commented on mostly in passing but following the tragic events that unfolded the local town offers money they had raised to Mike’s dad, Hideaway Tom (Joel Courtney) to send Mike to school. They really must have raised a small fortune. This did lesson the intrusion into paradise theme from the original.

The last thing I somewhat enjoyed and that gave me yet another tear for STORM BOY was the unveiling of a statue in honour of Mr Percival at the entry to an animal sanctuary. In the original there is no honouring, just a single line from David Gilpilil’s Fingerbone “bird like him, never die.” This version hangs on to the environmental themes stronger than the ancestral spiritual elements.

Storm Boy Jai Courtney and Finn Little image
Jai Courtney, Mr Percival and Finn Little

SOME WONDERFUL ACTING FROM NEWCOMER FINN LITTLE:

The acting cannot be faulted. Finn Little reminded me of a younger Levi Miller or even Kodi Smit-McPhee. If made in earlier years one of those stars would have been cast but Finn Little nails every single scene. I enjoyed his screen time as much as I did the Greg Rowe character back in the 70s. Both wild empathetic children more at one with the environment than any child of today.

Geoffrey Rush plays the wise old man as you would expect, but then I love everything he does on film. Jai Courtney was also great in his role but the motive behind why he is Hideaway Tom hiding away with his son isn’t overly sold. The motives are touched upon but he seems happy where he is. It is also odd when the older Mike states he never really saw his dad after he left – I mean, why not? He was a good father who did the right thing. This bothered me, Mike was better than that. If Mike’s motives were because he never forgave him for being forced to leave and his entire life was in pain for leaving the land where Mr Percival lived then why was he not fighting for the environment the entire time. What happened to Mike’s father?

IT WOULD HAVE BEEN GOOD TO SEE GULPILIL BACK AS FINGERBONE:

Trevor Jamieson was a good choice for Fingerbone Bill but there was also no reason that David Gulpilil couldn’t have returned to the character again – I would have loved this! The character was less relevant as the environmental themes took away from the spiritual themes. But his friendship with Storm Boy and his reassurance and uncle-like love was wonderful.

Morgana Davies rounded out the main characters and she was fine, she annoyed me with her pestering, but most teenagers annoy me with their pestering haha.

Storm Boy Morgana Davies and Geoffrey Rush image
Morgana Davies and Geoffrey Rush

IN CONCLUSION:

While the message of environmental protection seemed more like a tick the box to seem current, and the flashback storytelling had little relevance besides pandering to the first point, when STORM BOY does spend it’s time in the past with Mr Percival and Mike then it truly shines. I did shed occasional tears (as I tend to do in films often) when the movie reminded me of my youth and one of the favourite movies I grew up with. Is it as good as the original? No. Is it a good film? Yes.

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.