There are so many avenues you can take to categorize Taika Waititi’s “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”, but it also defies easy description. There are elements of “Moonrise Kingdom” here, as well as “Up”, “The Lord of the Rings”…even “Rambo”. But still I’ve never seen anything quite like it, when considering the combination of those elements. It’s funny, charming, and yes, it eventually gets a wee bit sentimental. But I quite enjoyed the film…and I loved veteran Sam Neill. It’s a strong performance, from a wizened old pro. And adolescent Julian Dennison, is an atypical, yet marvelous, find.
Ricky Baker (young master Dennison) is an abandoned child, being bounced to different foster homes throughout his youth, by child welfare services. Why the disruption? Well, he’s an unruly lad, who steals, paints graffiti, admires the “thug life”, and…spits (a hilarious throwaway bit of dialogue). But it’s quite possible that he’s finally found the perfect home in the New Zealand wilderness, with the childless Bella (an excellent Rima Te Wiata), and her grizzled “man of the wild” husband, Hec. That is until Bella dies unexpectedly. At which time, Ricky runs away into the woods, Hec tracks after him, and child services “Terminator”, Paula (a hilarious Rachel House) pursues the duo thinking Hec is an unstable “molesterer”. It’s…”majestical”.
This is a poignant, yet very funny movie. It’s based on a book called Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. It’s filled with outlandish and hilarious characters like “Psycho Sam” (the talented Rhys Darby), Taika Waititi himself, as the Minister, and again, the superb Rachel House as that wildly militaristic child welfare worker. Of course, Ricky and Hec bond, and, of course, it gets a little gooey and sweet as it barrels towards its finale. But they also mine some real emotion out of the youngster’s parentless existence, along with Hec’s recent widower status. Sam Neill truly finds a magical rhythm in this role. It’s a majestical performance.