I must confess, I may be a terrible parent. I conducted an experiment on my kids. It wasn’t intended as an experiment, but it was one all the same and, as with any experiment, the results may be positive or negative. It began simply enough with an opportunity too good to pass up—I could screen this animated feature at home, with my kids, and capture our simultaneous reactions to this flick that came out of nowhere. This is an attempt to answer the question how can you (adult white male film fan) accurately and ably review a film designed for children? That question ignores the fact that good children’s films should be designed on multiple levels: a level of enjoyment for the kids and a level of enjoyment for the adults chaperoning them. It also presupposes a member of one audience is not imaginative enough to put themselves in another’s shoes. In any event, we tackled this review of Ploey (alternately, Ploey: Never Fly Alone) as a team and now bring your our unbiased, completely 100% scientific results.
Director: Árni Ásgeirsson
Release Date: April 26, 2019
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Ploey, we hadn’t either. In fact, I think the entire Flixist staff was, let’s say ‘perplexed’ when it came across the news desk. It seems to have come from Iceland and the studios attached to this are a veritable who’s who of names you may or may not be familiar with, including Viva Kids, Icelandic Film Centre, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, DirectTV, and ARRI Media, which is a division of a company better known for their cameras than anything else. This hodgepodge production effort is likely behind the mind-boggling starring lineup of John Stamos, Sean Astin, and Jerry Garcia. I know Uncle Jesse is hot right now, again, and Samwise Gamgee was never not, but despite the presence of multiple female characters, they only went with those two familiar male American actors when redoing the voiceovers for an American audience. Lest not we forget, they also got Jerry Garcia, for good measure, but fair warning, I know Mr. Garcia’s name is on the poster as part of the tri-billed voice cast, but I have no idea where he fit in the movie--predominantly as he’s dead. He’s nowhere to be found on the film’s IMDB credits either.
ME: Isn’t it great they were able to get both John Stamos and Sean Astin to star in this movie guys?
KIDS: [no response, them being too young to even offer ‘who?’ as a retort]
The film opens strong with a clever bit that maximizes the parallel between birds and air force planes in V formations, with some birds speaking in radio air control sounding voices. Then, we get right to the heart of the matter. Ploey is about a group of plovers (birds) who migrate back and forth between their spring and summer nesting grounds and winter habitat. When they return to their nesting grounds, they’re predated upon by Shadow, a killer hawk or osprey who ruthlessly rips plovers from the sky and flies away to consume them while they’re still alive.
DAUGHTER: Where’s Ploey?
ME: Holy F*#k, that hawk just killed that plover! Brutal! They even showed him flying away with his prey.
After that first strike, the birds land and settle in to the business of having eggs that quickly become babies.
DAUGHTER: Where’s Ploey?
And then we got the first positive reaction to the film from the kids [I had already laughed when two local birds are dive-bombed with shit after the first hawk strike]. My daughter actually dove over towards me and hid her face when Ploey’s too-cute-to-be-real eyes appeared through a rift in his aviary embryo. Score one for the movie and its producers.
She again crooned ‘Bee!’ when one made his way across screen. Two points.
Of course, this is tempered on my end by a sequence in ‘flight school,’ wherein bullies, physically superior in stature and feather-styling to Ploey, pick fun of him for no reason whatsoever. I’m flummoxed by the fact that so much of children’s programming propagates the very behavior that so many of us find abhorrent (or endure) in adolescence. By including it, they’re teaching kids that this is the way of life and helping to guarantee that the cycle repeats itself by demonstrating that bullying is normal behavior, natural, and a fine role to play.
The kids continued to watch wide-eyed, offering no commentary on bullying, and I must presume I’m projecting my own experience from childhood.
Soon thereafter, a series of events ensues that can be summed up thusly:
- A little bird (not Ploey) is almost eaten
- Ploey is almost eaten
- Ploey’s dad is eaten by Shadow instead (I think I see near-tears in both sets of kids’ eyes)
- Ploey is almost eaten again, by a cat
- Ploey is abandoned by his mother, friends, and girlfriend (even the two-year-old understands that Ploey is suffering from clinical depression)
- Ploey learns that you’re never alone because the northern lights (or stars) are the spirits of the loved ones you’ve lost and you’re flying with dead people
- Ploey makes a friend
- Ploey’s friend seems to get killed by a fox
- Ploey’s friend isn’t dead, but then almost gets eaten by the fox
- The fox is actually voiced by Sean Astin and this is the only scene in which he appears
- Ploey takes shelter in Shadow’s nest, literally lying in the bones of his father
Soon thereafter, our plucky Ploey is hiking through a gloomy midnight mountain pass and my son begins to murmur, “I don’t like this part, it’s too scary, it’s too scary!” While I’m not scared, I’m disturbed when Ploey begins to hallucinate an icy reflection that shows him one of the bullies seducing his woman in whatever land the flock has flown to. The bully gets the girl because girls dig bad boys that are the wrong decision, the film seems to say. Ploey screams at his hallucination and bravely carries on, only to succumb to a blizzard and I pray that the movies ends there to save my kids from suffering any more of this too real, death-centric movie, wondering that we might as well have watched Our Planet on Netflix.
You see, I’ve sheltered my kids from anything too adult, anything too violent, anything that’s not going to inspire dreams that are happy or pure. I refuse to take them to Tim Burton’s Dumbo before screening it myself, regardless of the reviews and word of mouth. It’s Tim fucking Burton people. Ploey is real, and while some people like to address the realities of life when raising their small children, I am not one of them. In this household, we’re looking for good rides. Smooth sailing. Smiles and laughter all around. We’ve got enough 30-plus-year-old Disney films to fuck us up at a young age. I don’t need other studios to resurrect that trend.
There’s some more that happens, and Ploey eventually finds his way as children’s movies’ heroes are want to do. There’s a moment of triumph, and that’s when my kids issued their first happy noises since the opening 10 minutes of the movie. I mean, a common trope of nearly every kid’s movie ever (Watership Down excluded, and let’s be clear, that’s probably not a kid’s movie, even though I saw it as a kid) features humor, especially when heavy topics are present and being worked through. Is there humor in Ploey? I can’t honestly say. After those first ten minutes, I certainly didn’t find myself laughing any more than my kids--perhaps that was just my anxiety at what I had exposed them to in the process of my experimentations.
As the credits rolled, I asked them, Did you like it?
BOY: I liked the end.
More appropriately, he liked when it ended.