Fly Away Home (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 30, 2009 by  

“A moving and enjoyable  family film showcasing the talents of young Anna Paquin and a film based on the experience of Operation Migration in their early fight to migrate birds through the use of aircraft.  The film also sports breathtaking cinematography!”

Images courtesy of © 1996 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Fly Away Home

DURATION: 107 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Screen Format(s): Anamorphic, Language(s): English 5.1, French (Parisian) 5.1, Spanish (Latin Am) 5.1, Subtitles(s): English (US), French (Parisian), Spanish (Latin Am)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85


COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: April 7, 2009

Directed by Carroll Ballard

Based on an autobiography by Bill Lishman

Produced by John Veitch and Carol Baum

Screenplay by Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin

Executive Producer: Sandy Gallin

Music by: Mark Isham

Director of Photography: Caleb Deschanel


Jeff Daniels as Thomas “Tom” Alden

Anna Paquin as Amy Alden

Dana Delany as Susan Barnes

Terry Kinney as David Alden

Holter Graham as Stickland

Jeremy Ratchford as DNR Officer

Debora Verginella as Amy’s Mother

Michael J. Reynolds as the General

David Hemblen as Dr. Killian

The soaring adventure of a 13-year-old girl and her estranged father who learn what family is all about when they adopt an orphaned flock of geese and teach them to fly! Starring Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin and Dana Delaney.

Before “Winged Migration”, there was “Fly Away Home”.   A 1996 film which was loosely based on the 1995 autobiography “Father Goose” by Bill Lishman.

The film received positive reviews from many critics and audiences as the film would showcase a heartwarming tale primarily about family but something different was that this became the first Hollywood film to show the latest efforts in  migration for birds and also introducing audiences to the concept of “imprinting”.  In other words, humans forming a bond with birds, geese when they are born and then raising them somewhat as a parent and then teaching them how to migrate and eventually increase their population away from harm.

Taking on the directorial role for “Fly Away Home” is Carroll Ballard, known for his work with films such as “The Black Stallion” and “Never Cry Wolf” joins writing team Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan” and “The Patriot”) along with Vince McKewin (television writer for many series such as “The A-Team”, “Knight Rider”, “Dallas”).  Carroll Ballard known for his previous films that involve animals was back to directing a touching film about family, overcoming challenges and sticking together.

The film starts off with 13-year-old Amy Alden (Anna Paquin) and her mother driving in their car but with a big rig coming at them, the mother swerves to avoid being hit but ends up rolling the car and dying from the accident.

As for Amy, we see her in the hospital battered and bruised from the accident but right next to her is her father Thomas (Jeff Daniels), who is watching over her and letting her know that her mother didn’t survive the accident and that she will be living with him in Canada.

A month later, Amy moves from New Zealand to Canada to live with her father.  Of course, over a decade has passed and the two have not really communicated, so the estranged father and daughter need some catching up to do.  And for Amy, living in a rural country area and living in a room where her father has kept nothing but his art supplies, it’s not exactly the best of conditions.

But the problem is that Amy trying to get used to her new life without her mother and living in new town with a father she doesn’t even know.

As for her father, Thomas is an inventor and an artist.  He loves nature and building things but also has a hobby of piloting an ultralight aircraft.  He lives with his girlfriend Susan (Dana Delany), a woman that Amy immediately doesn’t care too much for.  In fact, it starts to even widen the gap between father and daughter and Thomas is not sure if he can be a father.  But Susan assures him that he can and stands by him.

As Thomas tries to get used to his new life as father, he has his brother David (Terry Kinney) help with the work duties and help watch Amy.

As for Amy, living in the middle of nowhere, she spends her time alone and just exploring the area around her father’s home.  She  discovers an area where construction is taking place and while looking around, Amy discovers eggs (Canadian wild geese).  Knowing that these eggs can be destroyed due to the construction in the area, she quickly comes up with an idea to bring the eggs home and to help them hatch.

As the eggs begin to hatch,  Amy is the first living thing the geese see, so they think she is the mother.  This process is called “imprinting”.  s She takes care of the baby geese and tries to raise them by feeding them, giving them baths, walking them and then eventually gets her father involved.  But for Thomas, having these geese is a bit worrisome  and he visits the local game warden and lets him know about them.

At first, the relationship with Thomas and the game warden is fine.  The game warden explains to Thomas about why the geese are following Amy and about “imprinting” but in Canada, the geese are supposed to be pinioned, so they can not fly.  This is done to prevent any dangers or hazards for the birds.

But as the game warden is about to pinion the wings, Amy is upset by this and hits him over the head.  Thomas eventually tells the game warden to leave his property but the game warden lets him know that by law, these geese are not supposed to fly.

Overtime, these geese quickly grow up to become adults and its in their nature to migrate before the winter.  But because they were imprinted with a human mother, Thomas does not know what to do.

Fortunately, his brother David tells him about a bird sanctuary in North Carolina where the birds can migrate to.  But the thing is, there are not many birds migrating there just yet and if there are no birds in the area by November 1st, the area will be taken over by developers.

So, Thomas comes up with an idea.  Why not help migrate the geese to that sanctuary?  Immediately, Thomas develops an ultralight aircraft that would look like a large geese and hopefully the geese will follow.  Thomas tries to get the geese to follow him but to no avail.

But Amy, being the precocious teenager and wanting to help her geese, she takes her father’s ultralight aircraft and starts to fly it.  The next thing you know, the geese fly and follow her.   Amy’s first time flying is not going quite as well, so it upsets her father that she took his vehicle but at the same time, he knows that because she is imprinted with those geese, it is the best chance they have to help migrate them.  So, in order to help them, he will have to teach her how to operate the ultralight aircraft and even ride along with her.

So, father and daughter start to bond because of the geese and share their passion for ultralight aircraft flying and becoming close to each other.  The plan to migrate these geese from Canada to North Carolina by ultralight aircraft is now on.  But unknown to the family, the game warden intends to do what he can to stop the birds from flying, even if it means stealing the birds from the Ander’s home.  Also, the developers are ready to tear apart the bird sanctuary.  Will Thomas and Amy succeed in migrating the birds?


“Fly Away Home” is presented in 1080p High Definition and with an aspect ratio of 1:85:1.  As with most film created in the early-t0-mid-90’s for Blu-ray releases, there is this softening effect that many tend to suffer from.  With “Fly Away Home”, one of the positive aspects of the picture quality is that the film is shot outdoors and thus, you get a sense of the beauty of nature with the lush green and red trees during the fall, the green scenery while the aircraft is in flight.  Also, being in the air while the geese are flying.  Very good outdoor shots and vibrant colors.

There is little softening effect during the indoor scenes but overall, picture quality is beautiful during the outdoors and many of the shots of the film are outdoors.

As for audio, audio is presented in English and French via Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Spanish 5.1 (Dolby Digital).  The film is primarily dialogue-based as the film is about conversations between father and daughter and daughter with family members.  But one of the biggest showcase for “Fly Away Home” is the music from Mark Isham.  Definitely creating a mood and the feeling of flight and beauty.  Definitely well-incorporated to the Blu-ray and sounds great.

There is also good use of surround audio with the noise of the geese but overall the film is primarily a dialogue-driven film and the sound is quite clear coming from the front and center channels.


For the special features included on the Blu-ray for “Fly Away Home”, the features are in standard definition with English (stereo) audio with optional Spanish subtitles.  Features included on the Blu-ray disc are:

  • Director & Cinematographer Commentary – Commentary track by Carroll Ballard and Caleb Deschanel as they talked about the filming of the geese in flight.  Definitely a complicated film to shoot and finding the various locations to shoot the film and the ultra gliders was a challenge.  A very good commentary for those interested in learning how everything came together for the film.
  • Operation Migration: Birds of a Feather Featurette – An 18-minute about Operation Migration.  A company founded by Bill Lishman and Joe Duff in 1994, a non-profit charity organization and how they are migrating rare and endangered species in order to grow the population.  The featurette introduces the various staff members and also, unlike the film and other countries which the birds are introduced to humans, the organization now wears costumes, so the birds will not think they are human.  Very informative.
  • The Ultra Geese Documentary – A 49-minute documentary which the film “Fly Away Home” is based on.  The documentary features Bill Lishman and Joe Duff testing to see if they can treat geese new migration routes through the use of their ultralight aircraft.  Their goal is to restore the population of birds through new migration routes and showing us what actually really happened in their experience vs. what actually happened on the film.  The experiences that Lishman and Duff faced such as imprinting, the use of the ultralight aircraft,  having 18 birds with its leader Igor and losing Igor, having to contend with the Wildlife Bureaucratic Service and  more.  Very entertaining as Lishman and crew actually had a lot of footage of training the geese to flying with the geese and more. 
  • HBO Making of: Leading the Flock Featurette – This 13-minute featurette showcases interviews with the director and the many talent involved in the film.  Especially how everyone were quite impressed with Anna Paquin’s performance in the film.

The Blu-ray is also BD-Live enabled.

“Fly Away Home” was definitely an enjoyable, heartfelt family film that touches upon the real life activity of Operation Migration and what they are doing to help restore endangered species of birds and helping them migrate.  But what was even more remarkable was watching the cinematography of showing birds in flight and being so close to them.  Granted, bird cinematography has since evolved since this 1996 film with the 2003 release of “Winged Migration” and also “Planet Earth” but considering the challenge of filming this scene, Director of Photography Caleb Deschanel successfully pulled it off.  If anything, the nomination for “Best Cinematography” was definitely warranted.

As for Carroll Ballard,  his name is  known for hits such as the 1979 film “The Black Stallion” and 1983 film “Never Cry Wolf”, films that deal with animals (which he followed up with his 2005 film “Duma” about an orphaned cheetah) and sure enough, a good director to take on the challenge for “Fly Away Home” and trying to create this bond between a young character with an animal, in this case, geese.

For younger talent, “Fly Away Home” definitely was a film that showcased Anna Paquin’s talent as an actress.  Having won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at the age of 11 (for the 1994 film “The Piano”), Paquin definitely brought a character with a lot of layers.  A character having to deal with this new life, this father who she has never seen for years and then ultimately finding common ground thanks to her geese.

Jeff Daniels does a great job portraying Thomas, this inventor/naturalist with his shaggy beard and long hair but doing a great job of portraying a father who is not too sure if he can take care of his daughter.  Credit to the writers who portrayed this family who really had nothing in common at first but eventually finding the common ground and eventually bonding through Thomas’ love for flying and Amy’s love for her geese and eventually, her becoming a pilot and sharing her father’s enthusiasm.

The film also stars Dana Delany.  Over a decade before her role currently in the TV series “Desperate Housewives”, Delany was definitely known for her Emmy award winning work in the critically acclaimed Vietnam War television show “China Beach” during the late 80’s and early 90’s and a lot of her voice work for the Batman and Superman animated series.

Some may feel that Delany was under utilized in “Far Away Home” but nevertheless, despite a short role, an important role of portraying the girlfriend of Thomas and for her character as Susan trying to get close to his daughter Amy (Paquin).

If anything, the supporting actor who did shine in this film and definitely caught my attention was Terry Kinney as Thomas’s brother David who brings a certain humor into the film as the uncle who is laid back but eventually comes up with major ideas to help the Thomas and Amy but most importantly, the geese.

“Fly Away Home” is a film that manages to hold up nearly 13 years later as a family film.  On Blu-ray, for those interested in migration of birds will love that the Blu-ray does features two featurettes and one lengthy documentary on the actual story that the film is based on.

Especially knowing that certain things that happened in the film, happened in real life.  For Bill Lishman who co-founded Operation Migration (and in real life was the man piloting the ultralight aircraft with the geese), the leader of the pack for his geese was Oscar and similar to the film, Oscar was separated from the pack and was lost but eventually found.  But unlike the film where Oscar has a prominent part of being there with Amy during the flight, in real life, Oscar’s return back to the pack of Geese was not an exactly enthusiastic return as the geese that he once lead turned against him.  So, it was an interesting segment in the special feature showing the relationships of the geese.

So, my highlight was the documentary and also the informative special features included in this Blu-ray disc release and for those who enjoyed the 2003 film “Winged Migration”, “Fly Away Home” was a film that definitely introduced many people to imprinting and new migration techniques.  In fact, “Winged Migration” on Blu-ray is being releaased on the same day as “Fly Away Home” and Bill Lishman had some involvement with that film as well.

If I had any problems with the special features on the Blu-ray disc is that it doesn’t include the isolated 5.1 Music Score with Composer Mark Isham’s commentary which was included in the original 2003 DVD.  The music was an important part of the film and I felt the DVD showing a tribute to Isham’s music was awesome.  But I was surprised it was omitted on the Blu-ray release.  But regardless of the special feature not included, for Blu-ray fans, it’s all about the picture and audio quality and “Fly Away Home” looks and sounds so much better via high definition that the Blu-ray version is the definitive version to own.

Overall, “Fly Away Home” is a touching, moving and enjoyable film about family and overcoming challenges.  And the film manages to accomplish portraying the family bond between estranged father and daughter but also showcasing beautiful cinematography that really makes this family film worth watching.

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