“Hildegarde” is a modest family film which incorporates forcefully presented anti-smoking and pro-environmental messages within a pleasantly silly story about three intrepid youngsters who defeat a couple of colorful bad guys involved in the smuggling of exotic birds out of Australia. Though small in scale, pic, which preemed earlier this year in the Kinderfest section of the Berlin Film Fest, warrants wider theatrical exposure than it will likely get, though it should have a long and cheerful life in ancillary.
Handsomely produced on Queensland locations, pic is only the second theatrical feature directed by Di Drew after her 1986 costumer, “The Right-Hand Man,” which top-lined Rupert Everett and Hugo Weaving. Drew, who has been working in television in the meantime, shows a confident hand in cooking positive role-model adventures for pre-teens in an adult-friendly stew. Hallmark-like production is pleasant without being especially memorable.
Kim Powell (Tara Morice) is still trying to get over the recent death of her husband, apparently the result of a disease related to his heavy smoking. The widow is having trouble coping not only with her personal bereavement, but with running her late husband’s painting and decorating business and caring for maturing Chris (Sam Geer); insecure Jeremy (Dayne Hudson), who can’t get over his dad’s death; and tomboyish Isabal (Gezelle Byrnes). The family lives in a small Queensland town, with their elderly dog and pet duck, Hildegarde.
Meanwhile, the nests of the region’s colorful parrots and cockatoos are being raided by the manic Wolf (Richard E. Grant) and his dimwitted sidekick Tony (Tom Long) — an end title reminds viewers that this trade in bird smuggling is a multi-million dollar business in Australia. The bad guys come across Hildegarde, who has recently laid a batch of eggs, and ducknap her with the intention of enjoying a roast dinner. While their dog keeps the eggs warm, the intrepid children “borrow” their mother’s car and set off in pursuit of the baddies, not only rescuing their duck, but also freeing the other birds the smugglers have caged.
Morice, who has kept a low profile since her hit role in “Strictly Ballroom,” is touching as the widow, and the three youngsters are excellent, lending more realism and depth than is usual to their roles. In contrast, Grant gleefully hams it up as the odious Wolf, while Long (last seen in “The Dish”) makes the not-too-bright Tony an amiable fool.
Animatronics were used in some scenes of this unpretentious and essentially likable family entertainment.