Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Brendan Maher
Stars: Bindi Irwin, Matthew Lilliard, Toby Wallace, John Waters, Sebastian Gregory, Jack Pearson, Nathan Dekker.
This is the sequel to 2008’s Nim’s Island, which was based on a series of children’s adventure books written by Wendy Orr. In that film Nim was a lonely girl stuck with her fantasies and was played by Abigail Breslin. Now she has grown into a feisty 14-year old tomboy adventurer and eco-warrior who is prepared to do anything to protect her island home from outside threats. Now she is played by Steve Irwin’s daughter Bindi Irwin in her feature film debut.
Irwin has a natural presence and, not surprisingly, is full of confidence in front of the camera, and is very natural when handling various species of wildlife. She also wears her environmental credentials and passionate concerns on her sleeve, as the film incorporates some earnest messages about the urgent need to preserve the natural habitat for endangered species. Irwin and Nim are certainly positive role models for young girls who comprise the target demographic.
When developers threaten to buy the island and turn it into a pirate-themed adventure park, Nim’s scientist father Jack (now played by Matthew Lilliard of Scooby Doo fame) heads to the mainland to try and plead his case for keeping the island free of development. Nim believes that if she can find three endangered species living on the island she can stave off the development.
Meanwhile, a teenaged runaway named Edmund (Toby Wallace, from Lucky Country, etc) manages to make his way to the island. In the original film he was one of the passengers from the cruise ship that visited the island, and he remembers seeing Nim. Edmund is also inspired by the sense of adventure of author Alex Rover (who was played by Jodie Foster in the first film) and his novels. It is a passion shared by Nim, and enables the pair to briefly bond.
But Nim is wary of strangers, and finds a reason to distrust Edmund, when she discovers that he has been followed by a trio of poachers who begin to capture all of the wildlife. Nim and Edmund have to fight back to protect the island and its wildlife. John Waters is game as Booker, the head poacher, who comes to the island with his two squabbling, inept sons (Sebastian Gregory and Jack Pearson) in tow. But they are no match for the resourceful Nim and her menagerie of animal helpers.
Return To Nim’s Island will provide plenty of entertainment for younger audiences, who will particularly enjoy the antics of Selkie, the charming trained sea lion. Director Brendan Maher hails from a background in television, and his handling of the material lacks any real sense of urgency or drama. The script, from Ray Boseley (tv series Round The Twist, etc), Cathy Randall (Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueburger, etc), and first timer Sarah Carbiener is a little too slow, formulaic, bland and predictable. And the dialogue is a bit trite. The film deals with themes of friendship, family disputes, perseverance, ecology and animal preservation, which should resonate strongly with older audiences.
There is some slapstick physical humour, and lots of laughs at the expense of Felix (Nathan Dekker), the neurotic, chubby and overly cautious lab assistant afraid to venture into the outdoors.
Wallace has a charming and natural screen presence as Edmund, and acquits himself well in some of the more physical scenes. Waters brings a pantomime-like quality to his performance as the mean and nasty poacher, who threatens Nim with a knife, and tries to burn her and Edmund while they are trapped inside a cave. But the real star is Irwin herself, and the film offers plenty of opportunities for her to strut her stuff as a female Jungle Jim, whizzing through the forest, climbing steep cliffs, and saving wildlife from various human threats.
Cinematographer Judd Overton (All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane, Dr Plonk, etc) does a good job of capturing the natural beauty of the setting and the film looks good. Return To Nim’s Island was shot in Queensland, but was intended for US television and a DVD release there. However, while it is good solid and clean fun for younger audience, adult audiences may find this innocuous enough family oriented film a little too bland and dull for their sensibilities.