Released: 17th Janurary
Seen: 13th January (Advance Screening)
In 1964, Colin Thiele wrote the book Storm Boy about the relationship between a boy and his pelican. Storm Boy is something of an Australian classic, getting an adaptation in 1976 that netted several awards and was a fairly big box office hit in Australia. According to my quick research, Colin Thiele’s only requirement was that his book couldn’t be turned into a sex comedy. That might be the greatest bit of information I’ve ever found… and it’s also probably the way they should’ve taken this remake because that might’ve been a little bit more interesting.
Storm Boy, the 2019 adaptation, is the same as the previous versions before it for the most part. A young boy, Mike Kingley (Finn Little) finds three baby pelicans whose mother has been killed by hunters so he decides to try and raise them himself, with a little bit of help from his father, colloquially named Hideaway Tom (Jai Courtney) and a local Aboriginal man named Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamison). As time goes on, the pelicans grow bigger and bigger every day until they’re big enough that they can live on their own, except one who decides to stay with the young boy for a little bit longer.
On the whole, this is a sweet story. It’s a lift on the classic “A boy and his x” narrative that has also given birth to things like ET or Iron Giant, it’s a classic trope that has worked forever and will continue to work until the end of cinema itself because we just love these stories of a young child and a companion trying to make it in the world. If this was nothing but an hour and a half tale about a boy raising his pelican and learning to grow up, I’d enjoy it so much and probably be singing its praises but there’s a problem, and that problem is that the filmmakers couldn’t just stop when they had a good thing. They just had to add something that is not only pointless but actively weakens the film.
So the big difference between this and the other versions of the original book is that this one needed to give Geoffrey Rush something to do so it created a second storyline about a grown-up Mike who is the former head of a major company that’s taking a vote on a mining deal. The company is now run by his son Malcolm (Erik Thomson) whose daughter Madeline (Morgana Davies) is just distraught that her father could be planning to open a mine and wants her grandfather, Mike, to stop him. Instead, he tells her about the South Australia of his childhood and his time with the pelicans and you’ve already zoned out reading this paragraph because this is obscenely boring isn’t it? It’s a dull, pointless addition that adds nothing. Yes, Geoffrey is playing the grown-up version of Mike Kingsley… and that’s the only way the two stories are linked.
When you do a movie that revolves around a character telling someone else a story from their past at some point the events being talked about need to, in some way, have an impact on the character telling or being told the story. There are many examples of this in practice, from classics like The Princess Bride to modern cash grabs like Once Upon a Deadpool to awful cheesy horror films like Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2. All of those revolve around someone sitting down and spinning a yarn to someone else, usually Fred Savage, and in doing so they grow or learn or have an epiphany of some kind. Seriously, go through those films and you can see how they weave the narratives together. The Princess Bride teaches Fred Savage to enjoy kissing books, Once Upon a Deadpool critically commentates on the issues of the original film and Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 has the events being told to the psychiatrist as a way to explain the reasons why the main character must go shoot a man holding a garbage can.
My point is that the anecdote being told about the character’s past should at the very least be relevant to the current events in some way. Here, the story of a boy and his pelicans has no real link to the story of a man who’s conflicted about opening a mine, unless we assume the link is “But I used to like nature” and if that’s the best they have then that’s weak. Everything in the Geoffrey Rush sections is basically a pointless diversion from the main narrative that could’ve been edited out with nothing lost to the actual narrative. It also doesn’t help that this was filmed after Geoffrey was accused of innapropriate behavior so there’s some extra controversy thrown on top of the general pointlessness of his sections of the film.
Storm Boy is by no means a bad movie, you can even have a fair amount of enjoyment with it. Heck, the screening I went to ended with the audience applauding so maybe I’m alone in this BUT when half of your film actively hurts the structure of your narrative, then I can’t really give more than half marks for it. Half the film is genuinely great and produces amazing performances by Finn Little, Jai Courtney and a squadron of pelicans…. the other half is a useless addition that needed to go the way of the dodo.