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Back to the Outback reminds us of the innocence of children
Is there a worldview as pure as a child’s?
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If you asked my parents to tell you about my seven-year-old self, they’d tell you I was an absolute brat. They’d tell you about how they had to drag me kicking and screaming from the television, and how they’d remove the batteries from the Tamagotchi so I wouldn’t hop on it every three seconds. In my defence though, it’s not my fault that Pokémon: Indigo League, Lilo & Stitch, and Adventure Time were absolute vibes.
Back to the Outback
My television addiction as a child meant I picked up many of the lessons that shaped my worldview from the screen. I learnt the meaning of family through Lilo and Stitch, and the power of persistence through Mortified. Dance Academy tore down my stereotypes around ballet, and Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids was my gateway into the world of true crime. But as embarrassing as it is to admit, one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt was through Shrek, which taught me beauty is more than skin deep.
It’s this narrative which carries through in Back to the Outback, an animated film reminiscent of Madagascar and The Wild, only set in Sydney. The movie follows Maddie (Isla Fisher), a sensitive taipan who is brought to the Australian Wildlife Park, after being found by a strangely familiar looking zookeeper Chaz Hunt (Eric Bana). After realising that the zoo’s visitors view her as a source of fear, rather than admiration, she escapes with the help of other lovelorn critters, such as sensitive scorpion Nigel (Angus Imrie), horny funnel-web spider Frank (Guy Pearce), sarcastic thorny devil Zoe (Miranda Tapsell), and arrogant koala Pretty Boy (Tim Minchin), in the hopes of returning home to the Bush.
But behind its goofy and humorous exterior, Back to the Outback is also an exploration of the cruelty of the outside world. As an entire secret society of other ugly animals highlights, humans are quick to respond with judgement and fear, a message that makes itself known throughout the film.
In this darkness, there’s nothing that shines brighter than the innocence of the children. My heart wept for Chaz’s adoring son Ben (Diesel La Toracca), who views his dad the same way many of our parents hope we do. He idolises him, memorising his tales and soaking in his stories, and even when it’s obvious that some of these are mere fiction, his love never wavers; his dad is his hero after all. And then there’s Norine, a young schoolgirl whose sweetness practically makes you melt through the screen. Rescuing the animals from the verge of capture, she treats them with admiration rather than fear – with a cheeky grin and a warmth which had me screaming: NEVER CHANGE NORINE!
Much like in real life, it’s this childlike innocence that carries the film. Whether it’s Ben’s adoration for his dad no matter what, or Norine treating the lost animals with empathy, Back to the Outback reminds us that no one knows kindness and open-mindedness like children. We might think they’re learning from us, but as this film reminds us, we have a lot to learn from them too.
Back to the Outback is streaming tonight from 7PM AEDT.
Watch these too:
The Kung Fu Panda trilogy, which was edited by Clare Knight, co-director of Back to the Outback. The goofy animated films are centred around a panda named Po, who dreams of becoming a kung-fu legend, and the band of kung-fu masters he meets along the way.
Despicable Me for another funny feel-good animation. The movie is centred around a supervillain named Gru who adopts three orphans in order to pull off the ultimate heist. But not everything goes as planned, in this story about forming a new family.
Izzy’s Koala World if you can’t get enough of Pretty Boy. This two-season educational mini-series follows the day-to-day of Izzy Bee, a young koala caretaker who helps her wildlife veterinarian mum rehabilitate and release the cuddly animals.
Shrek, for a film with more layers than an onion. The first of four, the movie is centred around an ogre named Shrek who embarks with a donkey on a journey to rescue a princess. But not all is as it seems, in this tale of friendship and true beauty being inside all along.
I can’t stop thinking about:
The Big Short and Vice director Adam McKay, who loves writing about horrifying crises. His latest film Don’t Look Up explores the issues with communication that were highlighted by the pandemic, by turning them into a comedy. “When Covid hit, I realised it really was about how much we’ve fouled the means of communication, and how monetising the very way we talk to each other could be the end of us,” he explained in an interview with Esquire.
How Dwayne Johnson, who was honoured as the People’s Champion at the 47th People’s Choice Awards, gave his award to Shushana, a Make-A-Wish recipient who he’d met at an event for the foundation. "She has inspired her family, her friends, now you guys here, now the world that is watching," Johnson told the crowd. I’m not crying, you are.
The AACTA awards too, because talent deserves recognition! Massive props to the screen practitioners behind Love on the Spectrum who took home the Best Direction in Non-Fiction Television and the Best Factual Entertainment Program awards, and to our very own Hannah Gadsby: Douglas, who was awarded Best Stand-Up Special.
Google Year in Search. As someone obsessed with a cheeky wrap up – and who cries watching the Year in Review videos that get put out – I was on this like a fruit fly on a banana. A good way to reflect and remember the year that has gone by.
This article in Slate by the infamous couch guy, on what it’s like being at the eye of a social media storm. Robert McCoy spawned massive debate online after a Tiktok was posted of his girlfriend surprising him in his college dorm, with everyone weighing in on whether his response, or lack thereof, was indicative of infidelity. But what was a lighthearted meme turned darker, as internet detectives started to invade his personal life. In this personal look at sleuthing culture, he shares: “As internet sleuths took to public online forums to sniff out my name, birthdate, and place of residence, the threat of doxxing loomed over my head.”