Title: Paper Planes
Director: Robert Connolly
Major Players: Ed Oxenbould, Sam Worthington
Out Of Five: 4
What’s exciting about a paper plane? Not much. It’s just a folded piece of paper, after all. But try this family movie from Australia you might think differently.
Twelve year old Dylan (Ed Oxenbould) lives in the outback with his dad (Sam Worthington). The boy already has a fascination with wildlife, he’s not bad at maths and his grandad was a pilot in the war, so flying is in his blood. There’s one other thing. His mother died five months ago and his dad hasn’t recovered, spending most of his days in front of the sports channel and paying little attention to anything else, his son included. As Dylan explains as he’s about to go off to Japan to compete in the Junior World Championships, paper planes help him forget what it’s like at home.
The film’s inspired by the story of Dylan Parker, who took part in the 2009 World Paper Planes Championships in Austria. Yes, there really is such an event! His story formed an episode of a TV series called Fly With Me, which was seen by film director Robert Connolly and the result is Paper Planes – with Parker as an advisor.
And Connolly has given us a multi-layered children’s film, probably the best family film out of an uninspired lot this half term. That’s not damning it with faint praise. We start with Dylan’s genius for making paper planes. His first attempt is something of a dream sequence, flying so far that it seems impossible. Then there’s the exploration element, taking him away from the confines of his home life, first to Sydney and then Japan, a genuinely foreign land in all senses of the word.
The third layer is all about his relationship with his dad. Dylan misses his mum deeply yet seems to be handling it better than the so-called adult. Dad is in the depths of depression and doesn’t know how to deal with it: all All he can think about his how bad he feels and that comes first, above everything. He does make some effort but the slightest knock pitches him straight back to square one.
Not that it’s a gloomy film. We know that Dylan and his dad love each other, so it’s a given that things will work out in the end. It is, of course, a heart warming film and it has a very big heart. But, in true Australian style, it has very little truck with sentimentality or sugar, even if soft focus memories of Dylan’s mum teeter on the brink. It’s replaced by a junior version of the ‘mate’ culture and an overall fresh, energetic approach, and that energy doesn’t just come from the kids. There’s Dylan’s grand dad, a bit of a ladies’ man at his residential home. And who comes up trumps at the garage sale to raise money for the boy’s trip to Japan by arriving accompanied by half a dozen lady friends bearing trays of homemade cakes for sale – and to the sound of The Milkshake Song!!
It also bucks the trend for films aimed at children but which include elements deliberately targeted at adults. This is genuinely aimed at children: we see things from their perspective and it’s one that adults will immediately understand as well, because they’re looking at it objectively. After all, outsiders can always see what people on the inside can’t.
There are times when some of the photography and so-called special effects let it down. The flying planes in the big competitions don’t look terribly real and the close ups a bird of prey in flight have the same problem. It’s a shame, because they let down what is otherwise a good looking film.
That aside, Paper Planes is great family fodder for the half term holiday. It has no pretentions to be anything other than what it is: a fun family film with its heart in the right place. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It could turn out to be the high-spot of the half term cinema calendar.
Paper Planes is released on Friday, 23 October.