A rotund and lively young boy with a backpack goes on a wild adventure with a grouchy older man. Not a belated description of Disney’s Up in this case, but the basic premise of a wonderfully quirky comedy drama from New Zealand. Ricky (Julian Dennison) is an unmanageable 13 year-old from the city who has been in the care system for a while and frequently in trouble. For a change, he’s packed off to a new foster home in the country with Aunty Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Uncle Hector (Sam Neill). The eccentric Bella, sporting a range of animal inspired knitwear, clearly has a heart of gold but a propensity for saying the wrong thing. Greeting Ricky with, “Who ate the guy who ate all the pies, eh?”, it doesn’t get off to a good start. Hector on the other hand is standoffish and just wants to be left alone. An unexpected tragedy makes the boy fear that he will end up back in “Juvie” (juvenile prison), so he sets off into the New Zealand bush in a bid to escape the authorities.
He’s soon partnered with the reluctant Hec, who struggles with being avuncular but still feels a sense of responsibility. Ricky with his loyal dog Tupac sees himself as a street smart “gangsta”, whereas Hec considers the youngster a grating liability. Set against the backdrop of some breath-taking scenery, the pair find themselves living off the land and up against a variety of challenges that the rugged environment presents, not to mention a ferocious boar. Ricky’s active imagination allows the film some bright visual flourishes, for example a friendly local suddenly becomes the “Cadbury’s flake girl” in Ricky’s mind. The boy talking at cross purposes with a group of callous hunters they encounter only gets the mismatched travellers into even further trouble though. Rapidly becoming media celebrities - Ricky’s misreading of a wanted poster is hilarious - and with a $10,000 bounty on their heads, suddenly quite an assortment of characters become very keen to locate them. The film heads towards an overblown showdown that would be ridiculous in most circumstances and yet works so well within the context of this film.
Unlike many films that sag in the middle or run out of steam long before the final reel, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is packed with enough imaginative touches to carry it ably from start to finish. Director Taika Waititi’s screenplay, adapted from Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, presents a deft blend of wacky humour and real warmth, with a message about the importance of family and how it can take many forms. Sam Neill once again demonstrates his immense versatility as an actor, though graciously never overshadows newcomer Dennison ensuring that it is very much a two-hander. The supporting cast includes some brilliantly comic performances. Rachel House is a hoot as the overzealous Child Welfare Officer Paula Hall leading the manhunt who is determined to track down Ricky at any cost, as though she has studied Tommy Lee Jones’ character in The Fugitive once too many. Standout oddball is arguably Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby), a deranged fellow disguised in an abundance of foliage who greets the pair with, “Is it a man or bush? Bushman!” It's a truly off the wall vignette that wouldn’t look out of place in the world of Monty Python. At times undeniably silly, the film also manages to be both immensely fun and heartwarming.
Shot using an Arri Alexa-XT digital camera and presented in 2.35:1, the pin-sharp image and vibrant colours really brings out the beauty of the New Zealand landscape.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, LPCM 2.0 (48kHz, 16-bit) & Audio Description.
The soundtrack is by New Zealand based band Moniker and complements the film enormously.
Director’s commentary, bloopers (approx. 2.5 minutes), interviews with principal cast members (8 sections totalling around 20 mins), behind the scenes footage (9 sections totalling around 30 mins) & featurette (3 mins).
A wonderful heartwarming adventure from writer/director Taika Waititi, deftly combining wacky humour with heartfelt moments. Signature Entertainment's blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic, with a reasonable selection of extras.
A quirky treat deftly combining wacky humour and genuine warmth in an adventure set against some stunning New Zealand scenery. An impressive blu-ray too.