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'Fly Away Home' Glides Into Compelling (and Cute) Territory

In "Fly Away Home," 13-year-old Amy (Anna Paquin) has trouble adjusting after her divorced mother dies. But then she befriends an orphaned flock of geese and, under the guidance of her father, an amateur pilot (Jeff Daniels), she shows them how to fly south. (Rated PG)


Even for kids, the premise sounded just too bizarre, too Disney-esque, to work.

Here's a girl who lives with her divorced mother in New Zealand. The mother dies, so the girl has to go live with her father, an inventor who lives on a farm in Ontario. For fun, he builds his own flying machines. When he sees how attached she is to these geese, which will never learn to migrate because they've imprinted to the girl instead of to their goose mother, he builds her a flying machine so she can show them the way to North Carolina.

"I thought maybe it'd be a little weird, a person flying with geese," said Carissa McKinney, 10, of Irvine.

"I thought it would be boring," said 10-year-old Hannah Stewart, also of Irvine.

But as the details of Amy's peculiar situation piled up, focusing on her anger and her loneliness, Carissa and Hannah found themselves drawn into a world where the story seemed not only plausible but compelling. And cute.

"It turned out to be really good," Carissa said. She particularly liked the flying lessons Amy's father gave her and the nature shots of the geese following Amy around "when they were little itty-bitty birds."

Hannah said she even would see the movie again. Her friend Christina Carson, another 10-year-old from Irvine, already has seen it twice and wants to see it a third time. "She wants to take her mom," Hannah said.

"Fly Away Home" is the type of film that invites continual questions from kids. They wanted to know what made Amy cry (a soap dispenser her father invented that squirted soap in her eyes); what happened to the mother of the goose eggs (it fell victim to a land developer's bulldozer); why the good guy turned into a bad guy (the ranger has to enforce laws requiring orphaned wild geese to have their wings clipped); and perhaps the trickiest question: Why can't we get geese like that at home? (Because I say so, that's why.)

The movie aims to interest the pubescent set as well. As Amy turns 14, she develops an implied crush on her father's friend, a handsome young man in a ponytail and an earring who gives her a temporary nose ring. But Christina and her pals said they were more interested in the geese. The nose ring was "neat," Christina said. "But I'd never get one."

Actually, unless they're nature or airplane lovers, older kids might roll their eyes. Twelve-year-old Meagan Bass of Irvine said she went to see "The First Wives Club" instead because she thought "Fly Away" would be "too sappy for me." She wound up catching the end of "Fly Away" and thought "it was all right, but something I'd rather not spend my money on."

At least one young viewer, 7-year-old Lauren Rice of Irvine, said she was inspired to fly a plane by herself. And for some parents, the parallels between Amy and the late Jessica Dubroff couldn't help but lend queasy overtones to what otherwise would have been a simple father-daughter romantic adventure.

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