What exactly makes Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople so much fun? I loved the film—based on Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress—long before I tried to puzzle out this question.
Perhaps it’s the premise, played out with such a wholehearted spirit of adventure: thirteen-year-old Ricky Baker, a de facto orphan under state supervision (Julian Dennison), and Hector Faulkner, the crotchety old man who’s ended up being responsible for him (Sam Neill), survive together for months in the New Zealand bush, on the run from authorities who want to relocate Ricky and believe Hector guilty of child abuse.
Perhaps it’s the lively dialogue, almost constantly snapping with wit. Perhaps it’s the gloriously rugged setting, the “majestical” New Zealand countryside—recognizably the same landscape where the Lord of the Rings films were shot. (Actually, that’s not the only connection, but . . . well, to say more would spoil a great moment.)
Perhaps it’s Ricky himself, full of quirky remarks, prone to mischief, but with a more sensitive side belying his tough, rebellious exterior—a sort of kindred spirit to the titular heroine of Lilo and Stitch. It may also be his developing relationship with his “Uncle” Hector, who initially wants nothing to do either with outlaw life or with Ricky, but finds an unexpected grace in the latter . . . and even the former.