One of the directors of last year’s excellent vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows is back with a more family-friendly film about a chubby New Zealand kid finding his place in the world by fleeing the cops in the bush for months on end. Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, while not as funny or original as his monster mash, is consistently amusing and filled with enough laughs to make its formulaic plot points easy to overlook.
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is our hero, an orphan who’s been passed from foster home to foster home due to his history of breaking, burning and vandalizing various mailboxes and such. The final home officials find for Ricky is right up against the bush, with a resourceful and whacky woman, Bella, and her grouchy man, Hector, live. While at first young Ricky appears allergic to country life – with its bugs, dead animals and general remoteness- he quickly grows fond of Bella and her unconditional care. But when she suddenly dies and the child protection people come knocking again, the boy dips out in to the bush, with Hec (Sam Neill) reluctantly seeking him out.
This is where the city boy meets wilderness/wins acceptance of older male story kicks in. Rickey and Hec are forced to camp in the bush for weeks, and authorities start seeking them out, thinking Hec might be some kind of “pervert,” What follows are comical clashes with bounty hunters and funny moments of the boy and his companion learning from each other. While film will poke fun at Rickey’s weight, he’s not just some dumb kid. His literary intelligence is often on display (he’s a haiku-producing machine), and when he learns that Hec is an illiterate convict, he finds himself in the position of teacher.
What the film boils down to is a delight. It’s not so funny as to make you fall out of your seat or charming enough to make you tear up. It’s just straight-up amusing, a cinematic zipline slide. Fans of the “Flight of the Conchords” will spot a familiar face in Rhys Darby, and those who like Waititi’s work have no reason to miss this. If anything, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the indie movie perfect for a summer evening out with the family.