After crafting a series of complex and acclaimed Australian films for adults, director Robert Connolly turns his attention to a younger audience with ‘Paper Planes’, a bright and breezy family adventure with a cracker of a cast. Based on a true story, it follows its young hero and his unusual skill on his quest for success and happiness, all folded into the pedantic folds of paper planes.
Dylan (Ex Oxenbould) lives with his father Jack (Sam Worthington) in a rural town in New South Wales. After a school project, he discovers an unexpected skill and passion for building paper planes, and with the encouragement of his teachers, enters and excels in the national paper plane championships. All Dylan wants to do though is find a way to reconnect with Jack, still grieving over the loss of Dylan’s mother. While his fellow competitors - especially elitist bully Jason (Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke) - have glory in their sights, Dylan knows the stakes are so much higher for him and his broken little family.
‘Paper Planes’ ticks all the right boxes for a satisfying family film, built on an imaginative and original premise full of comic and dramatic potential. Connelly, along with co-writer Steve Worlard, dispense with anything too complex, making sure that ‘Paper Planes’ appeals to audiences of all ages. While it bounces along with terrific humour and energy, especially thanks to Dylan’s best mate Kevin (Julian Dennison), the film also has a tremendous amount of heart. Dylan is about as good a kid as you could ever hope to meet, and his commitment and tolerance of his father is absolute. As a hero, Dylan has all the right attributes, maintaining his integrity and determination in the face of the worst obstacles. As a piece of children’s entertainment, it excels in almost every way – there are great characters, a cracking premise, it moves beautifully and it has great morals to impart. It’s heart is so much in the right place that it seems a pity to offer criticism of its filmmaking, which isn’t as admirable as its sentiment. Connelly seems to go for a "bigger and louder is better" philosophy, with flashy cinematography and preposterous editing that seem at complete odds with the humble content of the film. It’s as of the film is trying to be a bigger film than it can (or needs) to be, overcompensating for short-fallings it doesn’t have. Because of this, moments of ‘Paper Planes’ come across as a tad obnoxious when they really shouldn’t. Worst of all, composer Nigel Westlake totally overshoots the tone and sound of the score to the detriment of the film. He applies the same lush orchestration used to great effect in ‘Babe’ to ‘Paper Planes’, but it’s far too big and far too rich for it, and it ends up totally overwhelming the film.
The performances are also a mixed bunch. Most of the adults are (like the film) pitching way to high, so that Sam Worthington comes across as a tad mopey and Deborah Mailman, as an organiser for the competition, seems a bit unhinged. Thank goodness then for one remarkable piece of casting – building on the great work he did in ‘Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Day’ - Ex Oxenbould continues to excel as Dylan with another terrific performance. Oxenbould is a star in the making, both charming and arresting, and so natural he barely seems to be acting. For all its faults, ‘Paper Planes’ earns its place as a showcase for this extraordinary young talent.
It’s a pity that ‘Paper Planes’ falters as a film, because at its heart it has so much to offer, and realistically, its target audience won’t be too phased by its shortcomings. As a piece of entertainment, it does a terrific job, and you find yourself totally invested in Dylan’s quest, mostly thanks to Ed Oxenbould’s wonderful performance. Settle the kids in front of this one, and they’re sure to have a fantastic time.
Ex Oxenbould continues to excel as Dylan with another terrific performance.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘Paper Planes’ practically sparkles on Blu-ray, with a sunny and crystal clear 1080p 2.35:1 transfer. There’s no discernible loss of detail, with the transfer maintaining a bright consistency and colours popping off the screen. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is also bursting with life, and luckily everything is in balance, so the enormous score doesn’t overwhelm the dialogue or sound design. I can’t imagine Roadshow could have given ‘Paper Planes’ a better technical presentation on Blu-ray.
Unfortunately the extra material is really lacking on this release. The main content involves a series of featurettes around the science and building of paper planes (6:08 in total), hosted by Paper Pilots (and inspirations for the film) Dylan Parker and James Norton. Both have an easy air and make the demonstrations entertaining. The only material on the movie itself is a short featurette (3:44), but all you get is a quick description of the film and the young cast building their planes. If you wanted to know more about the making of the film, this disc isn’t the place to look. However, the film was also rendered in 3D for a limited release, so perhaps a better edition is on the way.