Finding ‘Ohana continues the tradition of balancing heartwarming family bonding time with genuine humor and wondrously exciting escapades.
Netflix has been offering audiences a steady stream of family-friendly adventure movies lately, including We Can Be Heroes, the standalone sequel to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, and Enola Holmes. Each of these films strikes a balance between a lighthearted tone and an adventure that provides more than its fair share of heartfelt lessons and dynamic characters. Directed by Jude Weng, Finding ‘Ohana continues the tradition of balancing heartwarming family bonding time with genuine humor and wondrously exciting escapades.
Pilialoha “Pili” Kawena (Kea Peahu) is incredibly skilled at solving clues and is thrilled when she wins a geocaching championship and a trip to the Catskills. However, her exciting summer adventure is abruptly canceled when her mom Leilani (Kelly Hu) flies her and her brother Ioane (Alex Aiono) from New York City to Oahu, Hawaii to care for her ailing grandfather (Branscombe Richmond). After discovering a mysterious journal containing clues to a 200-year-old treasure with connections to her family, Pili sets off to find it with the help of Ioane and their new friends Hana (Lindsay Watson) and Casper (Owen Vaccaro).
Finding ‘Ohana is sweet and charming, with Peahu anchoring the film with warmth and a spark for mystery as Pili in a solid first feature outing. The film stands out because it’s a tale about Hawaii told from the perspectives of the islands’ native peoples. It’s refreshing and allows for the exploration and inclusion of Hawaiian lore — the history of burial caves and the stories of ancient Hawaiian warriors known as Nightmarchers — and cultural practices. All of these little details that would have otherwise been missing in other Hawaii-based films make Finding ‘Ohana’s story all the more insightful, authentic, and rich.
Finding ‘Ohana wonderfully develops Pili and Ioane’s knowledge and love for Hawaii and their heritage. After having lived in New York for most of their lives, they were far removed from their family and their native culture. Being in Hawaii allows them to become fully immersed in the beauty and history of Oahu and Christina Strain’s screenplay is replete with commentary about the islands being more than a tourist hotspot. Through their adventures and interactions with friends, Pili and Ioane get to do deep dive into their identities in an organic way, with the film offering them the space to analyze their sense of self and their feelings about fitting in.
The character dynamics are incredibly strong as well. Pili and Ioane are the typical bickering siblings who just can’t seem to get along, but are forced to work together to find the treasure. The characters’ back-and-forth quips and irritation with each other feels true to their relationship early on. Ultimately, Finding ‘Ohana is about family — the things that are left unsaid, the hurt that it causes, the joy of being back home, and how the stories of the past can bring people closer together. The lessons, while obvious, are not heavy-handed, flowing throughout the film quite smoothly before coming to a conclusion.
Weng is able to capture the serene and captivating natural beauty of Hawaii, with breathtaking aerial shots of the ocean, the lush landscapes, and mountains. Finding ‘Ohana doesn’t stop there, exploring cave interiors in glorious detail, combining the visuals with the storytelling to paint a deeper picture of the area. That said, the scene transitions are somewhat awkward at the start and the runtime could have been edited down a bit without losing the heart and spirit of the film. However, these are minor nitpicks for a film that is genuinely thoughtful in its handling of family drama, Hawaiian lore, and engaging adventure. It doesn’t try too hard to be fun. Rather, it banks on its natural charisma and the chemistry between the characters to build its story, making it well worth the watch.
Finding ‘Ohana is now available to stream on Netflix. It runs for 123 minutes and is rated PG for language, crude references, adventure action and some suggestive comments.
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