No animals were harmed and no children’s piloting skills were exploited in Fly Away Home, the story of a 13-year-old girl who teaches the Canadian geese she has raised since egghood to migrate by guiding their path south in an ultralight aircraft. Director Carroll Ballard displays the kind of graceful way he showed with nonhumans in The Black Stallion, and he does well by young girls, too: He draws from 14-year-old Anna Paquin — she of the 1993 Oscar for The Piano — a bright, thoughtful performance as New Zealand-raised Amy, who goes to Canada to live with her estranged father, Thomas (Jeff Daniels), following the car accident she survives that kills her mother.
Amy is a sad, stubborn girl; Thomas (played by a full-bearded Daniels, no longer Dumb and Dumber geeky) is an eccentric, self-absorbed artist-inventor. And Ballard, working from a screenplay by Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin, lets the melancholy hang in the air with a few too many poetic shots of the lonely girl. But as Thomas teaches Amy how to spread her wings, any lacy sentimentality (as well as the jarring tree-hugger subplot about meanie land developers) falls away, revealing the soaring beauty of the flying sequences. And as Amy steers her brood toward their winter home, parents can block out thoughts of tragic little aviatrix Jessica Dubroff, and kids can think about their next, honking pet. B