Review: ‘Pelicanman’

Kids' comedy "Pelicanman" is a fable about a bird disguised as a man, who enters the life of an unhappy young boy whose parents have separated. Pic is custom-cut for an English-lingo remake -- provided a lead can be found who's as charmingly quirky and naturally birdlike as "P-Man's" Kari Ketonen.

More “Winged Mutation” than “Winged Migration,” kids’ comedy “Pelicanman” is a fable about a bird disguised as a man, who enters the life of an unhappy young boy whose parents have separated. Pic is custom-cut for an English-lingo remake — provided a lead can be found who’s as charmingly quirky and naturally birdlike as “P-Man’s” Kari Ketonen.

Head bobbing, hair sprouting like a rooster tail, Ketonen plays the bird who would be human. With a yen for the artistic (he envies people their music and dance), his pelican head is only visible in mirrored reflections. Emil is also the only one who recognizes the dapper, charismatic Pelicanman for what he is — and his observations of the bird integrating himself with human society make for some of the more entertaining sequences in a very entertaining film.

Being a fable, “Pelicanman” is somewhat predictable. Besides the fretful Emil, there’s a little girl named Elsa (Inka Nuorgam), who begins as Emil’s antagonist and eventually becomes his friend; Emil’s mom (Liisa Kuoppamaki), who never believes what Emil tells her about the man with the feathered extremities and appetite for Baltic herring; and their landlady (Jonna Jarnefelt), who’s allergic to birds (and, apparently, kids).

Pelicanman stumbles through his initial days as man a la “Being There’s” Chauncey Gardener — saying all the wrong things that somehow sound right.

There are scenes in Liisa Helminen’s film that are both profoundly funny and profoundly Finnish: Pelicanman’s first day on the job as a stage hand at the opera house is a succession of silent comedy routines that are doubly funny because of what they also say about the taciturn Finns. At other times, Pelicanman simply revels in being a bird — he’ll stop at a lawn sprinkler just to wet down on his way to work.

It’s hard to imagine kids, or adults either, not warming to this rare bird, that’s sweet, forthright and honestly emotional.

Pelicanman

Finland

Production

A Buena Vista Intl. (Sweden)/Buena Vista Intl. (Finland) release of a Lumifilm Oy production in association with Migma Film and Svenska Filminstitutet. Produced by Hanna Hemila, Anita Oxburgh. Directed by Liisa Helminen. Screenplay, William Aldridge, Helminen.

Crew

Camera (color, 35mm), Timo Salminen; editor, Jukka Nykanen; music, Tuomas Kantelinen; production designers, Jussi Halonen, Samuli Halla, Petri Neuvonen; costume designers, Marja Uusitalo, Tiina Wilen; sound, Paul Jyrala; choreographer, Jorma Uotinen. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Family), April 23, 2005. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Kari Ketonen, Roni Haarakangas, Inka Nuorgam, Jonna Jarnefelt, Liisa Kuoppamaki, Tommi Raitolehto.
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