Hunt for the Wilderpeople Review: Up in Live-Action

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople features character arcs you’ve seen before involving a spunky kid charming a grumpy old man (perhaps never better than in Pixar’s Up, a movie this one oddly very closely resembles). But it’s cartoonish tone, mixed with some genuine emotion toward its two lead loners, make this comedy from New Zealand a goofy trip to the theater that, while not the most original, will leave a great big smile on your face.

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a foster kid no one wants. We get a hilarious montage early on of his minor crimes narrated by his by-the-book child protective services officer (Rachel House). But that’s perfect for Bella (Rima Te Wiata), one half of a couple that has never been able to have children. Her husband Hec (Sam Neill), on the other hand, has no interest in the boy’s antics.

But some unfortunate events early on put the two opposites in the woods alone for months with the government after them. This gives the film the chance to beautifully photograph New Zealand as Peter Jackson did 15 years ago with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which gets perfectly name dropped in a moment that exemplifies this film’s winning marriage of slapstick comedy and the undeniable chemistry of its stars.

The whole thing ends up landing on the predictable side, and the epilogue really lays on the cheese, but Hunt for the Wilderpeople is still a comedy that works because director Taika Waititi knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish. It’s themes of companionship and adversity in the face of the unbeatable are well explored. The actors are all up to par, especially Dennison as a breakout physical comedian. So even when the sense that this film has been made before sets in, you won’t have to hunt too far to find genuine joy laced into this little gem of an adventure. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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