In the underdog story that was Dodgeball (2004), the teams of Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller went head-to-head in Las Vegas, the spectacle broadcast around the world on ESPN8. Another almost-sport worthy of ‘The Ocho’ would be the World Paper Plane Championships, which is sponsored, as fate would have it, by Red Bull. Australian director Robert Connolly’s Paper Planes (2014) is rife with the kind of heart-warming, back-to-basics nostalgia that will fill kids of all ages with child-like glee and have reams of A4 flying off shelves and into the air.
As well as being a lesson in efficient aerodynamics, Paper Planes is a tender portrait of male grief that revolves around 12 year-old lad, Dylan (Ed Oxenbould), and his old man, Jack (Sam Worthington), both reeling from the recent death of their mum and wife. In an age of ever-increasing technology the pair of rural Australian hipsters insist on VHS tapes, a wind-up disposable camera and playing Snake on an ancient Nokia; their old school attitude fitting for a story that harks back to the simple pleasures of folding a piece of paper and seeing how far it can be thrown. From an introduction on paper plane construction at school, through studying the flight of a friendly hawk, and then the regional, national and international tournaments, Dylan’s trajectory is Concorde quick but nonetheless an enjoyable ride.
Paper Planes ticks a number of other token boxes including a chubby best mate in the form of the rather hilarious Kevin (Julian Dennison), the first flutters of young romance with Dylan’s fellow origami enthusiast Kimi (Ena Imai) and a despicable adversary, Jason (Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke), who has the same kind of sneering arrogance and general evil as Draco Malfoy and would most certainly be a Slytherin should enchanting pieces of parchment be on the Hogwarts curriculum. The score and script do nosedive into the schmaltz throughout – “There’s a world out there!” cries Dylan, exasperated with his sulky, moping dad – and whilst the typically wooden Worthington does his best to convince as grief-stricken and forlorn, he is upstaged by his onscreen son.
Oxenbould is charming, assured and demonstrates a sincerity beyond his years. The opening song, Macy Gray’s ‘Beauty in the World’, is less than subtle emotional padding but any film that sees a grandfather bring a gaggle of his retirement home squeezes to a garage sale to the tune of ‘Milkshake’ by Kelis has to be laughed with, rather than at. The randy old sod, played with a twinkle in his eye by Terry Norris, is responsible for a lot of the troublemaking and – by extension – humour of the first half before things slide towards the overly sentimental. Unlike some of the creations chucked every which way in Paper Planes, the action is only ever heading in one direction but it is a good, old-fashioned family film full of high-flying imagination and real life values, exuding a familiar but reassuring fun and warmth that will have even the greatest of cynics reaching for the stationery.