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Blue Butterfly, The

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 03/05/04 13:40:45

"Based on a true story? Come on, now...."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

A common problem the children's movie has when dipping into the critical shark tank is that critics, by and large, aren't children. We're old, jaded, we've seen it all before, we know every formula and cliche and stereotype and cheap plot device, and so when we see them trotted out again, we switch on the pen-lights and scribble in our notepads things like "trite" and "maudlin" and "hokey". The Blue Butterfly could be accused of being all these things, and much more besides, but that'd be to forget that the audience that will go to see it are not as learned about all things cinematic as we. All they're really looking for is a little story, a few laughs, nothing scary and enough interest that their parents won't start looking at their watches in the first fifteen minutes. On those counts at least, The Blue Butterfly is a triumph of the genre.

William Hurt is Alan Osborne, world renowned entomologist (that'd be an insect geek, for those that didn't pay attention in biology class). He's just opened the Montreal Insectarium, his crowning career glory, when a little bald kid in a wheelchair (Marc Donato) zips on up to him and says he wants to be taken to the rainforest to see a rare Blue Morpho butterfly.

Well, what do you say to a little blad kid in a wheelchair who wants to be taken into an inhospitable part of the world to catch a butterfly that few can catch, especially when he's raining on your parade. To credit those who wrote this film, Osborne says no. Surely if this were a Disney film the guy would be all over it, wanting to make a good PR move in front of the cameras, only for the little kid to show him that being a good guy is a reward on it's own merits by the end of the film, but in this film we seem to be in territory that, at least occasionally, mirrors reality. And in reality, wheelchair or not, the bald kid is going home in tears.

But this kid has two things going for him. First, his mother is hot, at least hot enough to get someone of William Hurt's age looking twice. Second, Osborne isn't entirely happy with his life, having hid himself away from the world of love and family long ago so he could hang with his bugs in relative peace.

Long story short, Osborne takes the kid to the Costa Rican rainforest, and that's where this film goes from cheap Canadian TV movie to marginally expensive Canadian feature film. Once in the rainforest, there is plenty to look at in The Blue Butterfly. Oh sure, the storyline doesn't take any turns that will blow your mind, and Pascale Bussieres is largely wasted in a role that requires nothing more of her than the occasional motherly freakout, and the love/hate thing that you know will go on with Osborne until the time comes for them to hold hands.

But I have to ask... why does the kid have no accent while living in Montreal with his clearly French-speaking mom? Was the kid a foster child? Did they recently return to Montreal after eight years in Vancouver? Sure, these questions aren't vitally important, but the difference between mother and son really does pull you out of the film when you should be slipping into a butterfly-induced trance.

And slip you will, as the cinematography on display here is top notch, especially considering the budget (a mere $12.5m) had to be used taking a crew to the rainforest jungles of Costa Rica. One question I had was how much of the footage of animals and insects was purposefully shot by this director, and how much was stock footage? If it's all purpose-shot, then this film is a grand achievement on a scale that children's films have never before reached for. If it was stock footage mixed in with real stuff, then the editor should be handed an award for making the transitions seamless and interesting.

The star of the show is, of course, the dying kid, played by MArc Donato. This dude has been in Canadian film for longer than many people have known where Canada was, and he's on the money here as Pete, the kid with a dream. The chemistry between he and Hurt is strong, credit to both of their talent levels, and even when the script begins to wander into hokey territory, they manage to keep things worth watching.

William Hurt gives the kind of William Hurt performance that you'd expect from William Hurt - brooding, stumbling, internally damaged, looking for salvation - take any of his roles of the last two decades and put them in this situation and the movie wouldn't change one iota. That's who Hurt is - the middle-aged strong silent guy with good looks and a few problems, and nobody does it better.

Directed by Lost and Delirious' Lea Pool, it's easy to poke holes in the themes behind The Blue Butterfly, but if this film were at the standard of American Beauty, wouldn't it be wasted on the ten-year-olds and grandmothers that the production is really geared towards? It's a family film, and on that level it's a fantastic piece of filmmaking.

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