Although developing from a small, insightful, character-based beginning to a more Hollywood-friendly feel-good climax, this intelligent, atmospheric, and well-crafted family movie seldom loses its way.
13-year-old Amy Alden's (Anna Paquin) mother dies in a car crash, and she moves to Canada to be with her inventor father (Jeff Daniels). When developers destroy local marshland, she rescues some goose eggs and decides to raise them. But as their time to migrate south approaches, she and her father have to find a way to lead them home.
With such an apparently gag-inducing premise, it's hardly surprising that this family drama is 'based upon a true story'. What is surprising is how affecting it is, and how infrequently it lapses into cornball sentimentality.
The main performers play the film as an understated character piece, with Daniels bringing a welcome touch of pathos to his confused parent role. Paquin also brings a breadth and sensitivity to Amy that lifts the whole film. But the main stars are the geese themselves and the beautiful autumnal scenery of Canada and the eastern United States, splendidly shot by Caleb Deschanel.
It's not flawless - the increasing presence of the media becomes intrusive and there are a few ill-judged scenes involving radar alerts at American Air Force bases and accidental flights into major cities. But for the most part, its focus is tightly on the characters where it belongs, transforming what could have been an entertaining piece of child-only fluff into an affecting drama that the whole family can enjoy.
"Fly Away Home" is on BBC1 at 2.55pm, Sunday 15th April 2001.