Review by C.J. Bunce
If Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg didn’t get paid for the screenplay for the new Netflix kids’ adventure movie Finding ‘Ohana, they should. Usually an homage borrows bits and pieces from the source material. Finding ‘Ohana is different–it is a remake (albeit unofficial remake) of the 1985 classic coming of age adventure The Goonies, updated to bring it into the 21st century and change the setting from Oregon to Hawaii. ‘Ohana, which you’ll know from previous Hawaii-themed series and movies, means family, which reflects the film’s theme of Hawaiian culture and families reunited. Ultimately the effort is a mixed bag–a movie that could be great fun for younger kids, but will make everyone else crave the movies it pulls its ideas from.
The plot follows the framework of The Goonies–a family in need of money, and a kid ready for adventure who finds a treasure map in the form of a book that takes the kid, this time a girl, newcomer Kea Peahu as Pili in the shoes of Sean Astin’s character, also exploring dangerous mountain caves and centuries old lore that leads to a lost treasure. It even includes a coin clue like the one Astin held with a hole to identify the location of the treasure, and a cocky big brother with a headband, here played by Alex Aiono as Ioane, who couldn’t be better cast as a young Josh Brolin (a doof after a smarter local girl Hana, played by Lindsay Watson). Ioane and friends hang on a cliff in yet another homage–to the famous Drew Struzan movie poster for The Goonies. It’s down a few characters from The Goonies, but the new adventure even co-stars Ke Huy Quan, who played Data in The Goonies (and Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), here as a friend of the kids’ mom. Lost treasure, dangerous escapes, a few dunks in the water, and an eager twelve-year-old–that’s probably all you need to know to decide whether this is for you.
In updating the source material, the film borrows the cultural influence of Hawaiian culture from other familiar films, like Moana, Lilo & Stitch, and Hobbs & Shaw (the family moves from New York City to Hawaii to help a sick grandfather). It also has several recurring laughs copying Michael Pena’s street slang breakdowns of the past that became his character’s trademark in the Ant-Man movies, here to replay the historical events that led to the lost treasure. Updates including the usefulness and non-usefulness of cell phones in an emergency, the brother contending with a spider bite, and the absence of The Goonies’ mafia gangsters are all improvements. Even pop songs are used to enjoyable effect (here Meghan Trainor swapped for Cyndi Lauper), although the musical score could have used some more energy backing up the key action sequences–John Williams could have elevated the excitement a bunch.
Hawaii is always going to be a great setting. While remarking that Jurassic Park was filmed there, the characters take us on a walk through some familiar film shots. Since it’s midwinter the views of the islands may be enough to satisfy–it has that same sunny vibe as 50 First Dates (which also co-starred The Goonies’ Sean Astin and was filmed in Oahu). Despite the location it doesn’t feel authentically Hawaiian, say like an episode of Magnum, p.i. (the original or reboot). Some of this comes from obvious studio sets, including identifiable painted styrene set pieces for caves and rocks, which evoke a Disney park ride more than the feel of a real, dangerous cavern.
The story assumes the only mainland place to live is New York City, which is annoying. It’s a constant reference that makes the lead kids seem shallow and unappealing–is there really a kid who grew up in New York City (or anyplace else) that wouldn’t jump at the chance to move to Hawaii? At an overlong 2 hours the movie had plenty to cut into like this to make it into something that could have been much better. Although the story should work for ages 7 to 12, many references seem targeted to the 20 and up crowd–none of the kids on the film would understand Lost TV series references today, for example. A 12-year-old who grew up in NYC that can steal a truck, or learned Spanish because other kids expected her to be Puerto Rican? Much could have been caught in the editing phase. The butt jokes seem forced on a promising young cast. So this is only for kids not old enough to know they should be cringing. Another thing: The young lead character’s hobby is geocaching–she manages to do this in NYC and it’s her focus when she arrives in Hawaii. Geocaching in caves is dangerous stuff, so keep this away from more impressionable kids (the character encounters some of her own pitfalls along her journey).
As for adult viewers, Finding ‘Ohana is probably one to skip in favor of an actual screening of The Goonies. Or turn this on for the kids and take off your critical hat. Some adults may be able to stay engaged simply with a game of “spot the film reference,” as it certainly taps into 1980s nostalgia. Finding ‘Ohana is streaming now on Netflix.