Geocache champion Pilialoha “Pili” Kawena (Kea Peahu), age twelve, is abruptly lifted from her busy New York life and dropped into rural O’ahu to help care for her grandfather. Initially skeptical about her new surroundings, Pili finds a cryptic pirate’s journal in her Papa’s studio hinting at a 200-year-old shipwrecked treasure hidden away in the island’s caves and mountains. With her older brother and new friends in tow, she uses her clue solving skills to lead them on an adventure of a lifetime through the natural wonders of Hawaiʻi. As she learns to respect and love her native culture she also discovers not all secrets should be shared and that the real treasure in life is ‘ohana — her family.
In 2019, when it was first revealed that there would be a live-action Dora the Explorer movie released later that year, titled Dora and the Lost City of Gold, the reaction it got was almost universal – why? People understandably addressed their concerns about the film and, to be honest, I also thought the film was going to be terrible. It seemed like it was going to be an extremely cringy family movie with tons of little kid humor such as poop and fart jokes, and it just looked like an overall disaster.
But when the movie actually came out later that year, people were shocked to discover that Dora was actually kind of great. It had an incredibly fun and charming lead in Isabela Moner and actually boasted some fairly good humor. Its heart was in the right place and it even featured one of the weirdest scenes of the entire year. If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
Jude Weng’s Finding ‘Ohana kind of reminded me of Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Both films feature kid protagonists who set off on an adventure to find an object or a place. And while Finding ‘Ohana doesn’t manage to reach the highs of Dora, it’s still an entertaining family flick with plenty of heart and fun to go around.
The first act is definitely a drag to have to sit through though. It almost seemed as though the filmmakers weren’t too sure what to do in order to set up this story because in one scene it feels like a coming-of-age movie, and then the next it sort of feels like a romance. Plus, a lot of the humor can feel quite jarring and it almost felt like they were trying to appeal to both teenagers and adults.
But what makes the film quite special is its sense of fun and adventure. It’s genuinely hard to not get invested in this story for even just a couple of minutes. There comes a point in the movie in which you actually start to care about the characters’ journey and you want them to succeed in their goals.
And, yes, it does pack quite a big punch with its heart and emotions too. There’s one scene in the second act that revolves around the Meghan Trainor song “All The Ways” that was incredible. It sounds really weird, I know, but you just have to see it to understand what I mean. It’s a compassionate scene filled with love and hope.
For the majority of the running time, there’s always something happening too. It’s just the first act that is a bit hard to get past. But once you do, you’ll more than likely find plenty of things to enjoy about Finding ‘Ohana. It has a great cast of actors who portray funny and overall well-developed characters that feel relatively grounded by the end.
Unfortunately, the ending itself is quite underwhelming and it makes the rest of the movie beforehand seem remarkably inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Gratefully it wasn’t the type of ending that could ruin an otherwise good movie, because even still, Finding ‘Ohana is a whole lot of fun for the whole family even if it does suffer from its pacing and humor.
Overall Grade: B
MPAA Rating: PG for language, crude references, adventure action, and some suggestive comments
Directed by: Jude Weng
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: January 29, 2021
Running Time: 123 minutes