“Finding ‘Ohana”, which was released on Netflix in last week, is a goofy but sincere family adventure flick packed with enough fun and entertainment to hold our attention. While apparently wearing the influences from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) and “The Goonies” (1985) on its sleeves, the movie also tries to distinguish itself via its solid story and characters mixed with lots of cultural mood and details to be appreciated, and the overall result is engaging enough to make us smile and chuckle at those silly but amusing aspects in the film.
The story mainly revolves around Pili (Kea Peahu), a plucky little American girl of Hawaiian heritage who has lived with her mother Leilani (Kelly Hu) and her adolescent older brother Iaone (Alex Aiono) in a Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City for several years since they moved there shortly after her solider father’s death. The opening scene shows her participating in a local treasure hunt competition, and she is certainly excited when she eventually wins the competition, but, alas, instead of going to the Catskills along with her fellow treasure hunters, she ends up visiting Hawaii along with her family due to the deteriorating health condition of her grandfather Kimo (Branscombe Richmond), who has lived alone in his family house located in one of the main Hawaiian islands since his daughter left along with her children.
Both Pili and Ione are not so pleased about going to their grandfather’s house mainly due to the absence of Wi-Fi in the house, but they have no choice but to get accustomed to their current status, and things start to get better for them as they encounter a teenage girl named Hana (Lindsay Watson) and a nerdy little boy named Casper (Owen Vaccaro), who surely have lots of things to tell Pili and Ioane about the Hawaiian culture. While Kimo can be your average cranky old man at times, he is usually nice and hearty to his grandchildren, and Pili becomes enthusiastic when she happens to come across an old notebook belonging to her grandfather, which incidentally contains the information about some old hidden treasure hidden somewhere inside a big mountain in the island.
Although he does not seem to be that amused about his granddaughter’s discovery of his notebook, Kimo is willing to tell her more about the secret history of that treasure in question, and that makes Pili more interested in finding that treasure. When it looks like her mother will have to make a certain difficult financial decision for saving her grandfather’s house, Pili becomes determined to find that treasure as soon as she can, and it goes without saying that not only Casper but also Hana and Ioane come to get involved in her impromptu quest for that treasure.
Now this will surely take you back to the memories of “The Goonies” and those Indiana Jones movies, and I assure you that the movie will not disappoint you at all as throwing several humorous homages to them and other notable adventure flicks here and there throughout the story. At one point, we see a valley plain which looked pretty familiar to me, and, what do you know, one of the characters in the film points out that this place is one of the key locations used for the production of “Jurassic Park” (1993), which was another wonderful adventure film for me and many others in my generation in the 1990s.
Once Pili and her gangs enter a hidden cave which may be the tomb of some important Hawaiian dude in the past, the screenplay by Christina Strain diligently rolls its main characters from one risky spot to another as expected. At one point, they must move along a narrow ledge and then jump over a gap below which fiery lava is churning, and that leads to a hilarious moment as they nervously sing together for helping one of them overcome the fear of height.
As they go through one obstacle after another along the story, you may wonder how those pirates managed to build all these elaborate traps and contraptions, but the movie is funny and entertaining enough to make us overlook this aspect for a while, and it is also sometimes poignant as occasionally focusing on the growing emotional bond among its four main characters. While I think the finale is a bit contrived, it surprises us with an unexpected personal moment which I will let you see for yourself, and this moving moment surely resonates with the very title of the film.
The main cast members of the film are uniformly good as bringing considerable life and personality to their respective roles. While young performer Kea Peahu holds the center via her spirited performance, Alex Aiono, Lindsy Watson, and Owen Vaccaro have each own moment to shine around Peahu, and the same thing can be said about Kelly Hu and Branscombe Richmond, who provide some gravitas to the story as required. Although he just appears in a couple of scenes, some of you will be delighted to see Ke Huy Quan, and I must say that I became a bit nostalgic about how he stole the show in both “The Goonies” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984).
Overall, “Finding ‘Ohana”, which is directed by Jude Weng, is equipped with enough charm and personality, and it is surely an exemplary junior which deserves to be compared with “The Goonies” and other notable senior adventure flicks. As a seasoned adult audience, I frequently observed it with detached musing on a number of preposterous elements in the film, but I still could be entertained by its young main characters’ bumpy adventure and then touched by what happens to them around the end of the story, and I am sure that young audiences will enjoy and love this likable adventure flick more than I did.