Soaring success

'Fly Away Home' takes wing with breathtaking beauty, heartfelt performances

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Moviemakers are rarely kind to animals; they insist on turning the poor critters into people - usually annoying, ridiculous people at that. (See Ed, Flipper, Dunston, Gordy, et al.)

No such contrived nonsense in Fly Away Home; in this wild goose yarn, the winged characters are never made to pretend they are anything but birds. And such beautiful birds they are.

That's not to say the movie stints on aw-shucks moments; the goslings are plenty adorable as tiny fuzzballs surrounding their adopted ''mother.''

As Amy, Anna Paquin again displays the startling dignity and self-possession she showed in The Piano. This time she plays a young teen reunited with her artist-father (Jeff Daniels) after a 10-year separation when her mother is killed in an accident. But she is numb with grief and feels little connection with this stranger who builds fantastic metal sculptures.

Amy's discovery of orphaned eggs begins her return to emotional health. Without parents, the flock won't learn to migrate, so her father comes through with ultra-light aircraft that they use to teach the young geese to fly.

As Amy learns to fly, she gains self-confidence (and a nose ring) as well as new respect for her father and the various bird-lovers who lend a hand.

Based very loosely on William Lishman's non-fiction book Father Goose, the movie invents some nasty developers to threaten the flock's intended home with bulldozers. That forgettable conflict barely registers compared to the glorious action that takes place in mid-air.

Director Carroll Ballard also made Never Cry Wolf and (along with cinematographer Caleb Deschanel) The Black Stallion, two other fine movies built around stunning natural images. Fly Away Home is their equal and better; its aerial scenes are wondrous, beautiful as symphonies, and worth the price of admission alone. Count as a bonus the skilled, heartfelt performance from the teen-aged star and from Mr. Daniels as her resourceful dad.

Published Sept. 13, 1996.