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Fly Away Home is a 1996 family drama film directed by Carroll Ballard, the director of The Black Stallion (1979). The film stars Anna Paquin, Jeff Daniels and Dana Delany. The film was released on September 13, 1996 by Columbia Pictures.

The story follows a young girl from New Zealand who survives a car crash that results in the death of her mother. The young girl is sent to live with her father on an Ontario farm, where she adopts a brood of Canada geese chicks. When the birds imprint on her as their Mother Goose, she realizes that unless she and her father can teach the birds a migration route from Ontario to North Carolina, the birds will not be able to survive the winter. The solution comes in the form of ultralight aircraft that are used to guide the birds to sanctuary.

The story dramatizes the actual experiences of Bill Lishman, who in 1986 started training geese to follow his ultralight and succeeded in leading their migration in 1993.

The film has mostly positive critical reviews, receiving an 85% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes.[1]


In New Zealand, 13-year-old Amy Alden (Anna Paquin) is involved in a car accident with her mother, which results in her mother’s death. Amy is taken back to her new home in Ontario by her inventor father Thomas Alden (Jeff Daniels), who later introduces her to his girlfriend, Susan (Dana Delany). While Amy is initially hostile towards her father and Susan, she eventually grows fond of both.

After a construction crew destroys a small wilderness area of birds in the Alden family’s backyard, Amy decides to check out the scene only to find a bunch of eggs left behind by their parents. Without Thomas, Susan or her uncle David (Terry Kinney) knowing, she takes the eggs and sticks them in a dresser located in her father’s old barn to incubate them. When she comes back from school, she discovers that the eggs have hatched and Thomas allows her to keep the birds.

After asking for help from local game warden Glen Seifert (Jeremy Ratchford) on how to help care for the geese, Glen comes over to the Alden house where he says all domestic geese must have their wings pinioned (clipped) in order to render them flightless. When Glen attempts this on one of the geese, it upsets Amy. Thomas throws the game warden off his property. Glen threatens that if the birds start flying, he will have to confiscate them.

Thomas begins doing research and learns that if the birds aren’t taught to fly properly, they will fly off on their own and get lost or possibly not survive the winter. He enacts a plan to use a homemade aircraft to teach the birds to fly. When the birds fail to follow him, he comes up with the following plan: teach Amy to fly and the birds will follow her because they already do the same thing on land due to Amy being imprinted as their mother. Susan is disgusted at hearing the news as, the previous day, Amy had hopped in one of Thomas’s aircraft and almost killed herself when the aircraft crashed.

Thomas, Susan, David and Thomas’s friend Barry (Holter Graham) attempt to teach the birds to fly, with success. David travels down to North Carolina to talk to a friend who owns a bird sanctuary about the plan, who initially finds the plan both ludicrous and impossible but also mentions that if no birds reach the sanctuary by November 1, it will be torn down by developers who plan to turn it into a housing development.

Amy and Thomas practice flying the aircraft, but Igor (the weakest and slowest goose of the bunch) accidentally hits the wing of Amy’s aircraft, both injuring the bird and denting the aircraft's wing, and lands in a forest. While the gang goes off to search for the bird, Glen, keeping his promise to confiscate the birds and who witnessed the Aldens practicing for the big flight, comes to the Alden barn and "steals" the geese. The next day, after having found Igor and getting back the geese, the gang set off on their quest to migrate the geese.

After making an emergency landing at a U.S. Air Force base on Lake Ontario and almost getting arrested, Amy and Thomas become national news with the U.S. cheering them on and residents giving the Aldens a place to stay at night at each of their stops. Thirty miles before reaching the bird sanctuary, Thomas’s aircraft crashes in a corn field and he commands Amy to finish the journey by herself. After Amy takes off and begins to head toward the sanctuary, Thomas hitchhikes a ride with a local group of hippies who take him to the bird sanctuary. While waiting for Amy, Thomas, Susan, Barry and many hippies, tree huggers, townspeople and animal enthusiasts stand up to the large crowd of developers who are waiting to start the excavation of the site. Amy eventually appears with the geese, much to the joy of the townspeople and Amy’s family, but to the dismay of the developers. The townspeople and the Aldens celebrate their victory.

Before the credits roll, it is revealed that all 16 geese, including Igor, returned to the Alden's farm the next spring safely and all on their own.


As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified, Listed in order of screen credits:[2])

Actor Role
Jeff Daniels Thomas "Tom" Alden
Anna Paquin Amy Alden
Dana Delany Susan Barnes
Terry Kinney David Alden
Holter Graham Barry Stickland
Jeremy Ratchford Glen Seifert
Deborah Verginella Amy's Mother
Michael J. Reynolds General
David Hemblen Dr. Killian
Ken James Developer
Nora Ballard Jackie
Sarena Paton Laura
Carmen Lishman Older Girl
Christi Hill Older Girl
Judith Orban Teacher
Jeff Braunstein Chairman
John Friesen Smalltown Businessman
Chris Benson Farmer
Kevin Jubinville M.P.
Philip Akin Air Force Reporter
Gladys O'Connor Farm Woman
Geoff McBride Clerk
File:Fly Away Home aircraft.jpg

An example of an ultralight on display at the Western Canada Aviation Museum to publicize the film.


To recreate the Alden home, principal photography took place in 1995 at two farms near Lindsay in southeastern Ontario. The township had also been the setting for A Christmas Story (1983), and later A Cool Dry Place (1998). The blacksmith shop constructed onsite for the filming of The Last Buffalo at Purple Hill, Ontario was re-used as part of the Alden homestead.[3]

Two gliders were featured in the film: The UFM Easy Riser and the Cosmos Trike. The Easy Riser first appears as a foot-launched biplane hang glider. True to Lishman's real-life saga, modifications were made to improve the design including the addition of a motor and seat. Anna Paquin's character instead flies an A-frame Cosmos Trike with a mock goose head mounted to the noseplate of the airframe and a fabric wing covering painted to resemble feathers. The Cosmos Trike was reportedly chosen for its safety, superior engine power, and increased wing size (a feature that was needed to fly slow enough for the birds).[4]

The four-day trip home for the geese that would take them to Lake Ontario, over the Appalachians to Pennsylvania, Maryland, finally settling on the North Carolina Shores, had principal photography actually filmed nearly entirely at Port Perry and Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. Additional location shots were the city-fly-through in Toronto, Ontario standing in for Baltimore, Maryland (CGI aircraft).[5] At the conclusion of the production, Lishman led the 60 imprinted "actor-geese" in migration, to winter at the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center off the coast of Georgetown, South Carolina.[6]

While in production, the film was at first titled Flying Wild but was changed to Fly Away Home just weeks before its release in movie theaters. The original trailer has the title Flying Wild and can be found on certain copies of the Columbia Tri-Star Jumanji VHS Tape.[7]

Director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel previously collaborated on The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf with Fly Away Home being their third family film. Anna Paquin, who plays daughter to Jeff Daniels in Fly Away Home, would later play a love interest in The Squid and the Whale (2005). Upon the release of the Squid and the Whale, Jeff Daniels said that having had the previous experience made the filming a bit awkward for both of them.[8]


For a modest budget, Fly Away Home returned US$25 million in the U.S. box office and US$31 million internationally. Audiences and critics enjoyed the evocative, uplifting family-oriented film which also received critical acclaim. Roger Ebert noted: "There are individual shots here almost worth the price of admission...[including] a stunning shot in which the towers of Baltimore materialize from the mist, and office workers see the little girl and her geese flying past their windows."[9] Janet Maslin from The New York Times was similarly effusive, "Mr. Ballard turns a potentially treacly children's film into an exhilarating 90's fable."[10] The uplifting theme of the film was often cited; Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat extolled: "The movie adds excitement and emotion, turning into a celebration of the creative ways human beings and animals can serve, assist, and love one another."[11]

The movie holds an 85% approval rating on the movie site Rotten Tomatoes indicating positive reviews from critics.[1]


Caleb Deschanel's visuals received notice and resulted in nominations for the 1996 Academy Awards and American Society of Cinematographers, USA. Although unsuccessful in both competitions, Fly Away Home went on to win the 1997 Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics Choice Award as the Best Family Film, the 1997 Christopher Award (for family films), 1997 Young Artist Award in the category of Best Family Feature – Drama, and the 1997 Genesis Award for Feature Films. Anna Paquin was also nominated for the Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actress (the film was also nominated as Best Family Feature – Drama) and the 1997 YoungStar Award for Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Drama Film.[12]

Home media release

Along with the VHS release of Fly Away Home in December 1996, a later 2001 special edition DVD included the exclusive featurette by Bill Lishman, Operation Migration: Birds of a Feather, along with two documentaries: The Ultra Geese and the HBO special Leading the Flock. The DVD also provided a link to Lishman's "Operation Migration" website.[13] A companion CD audio recording of the music featured in the soundtrack was released in 1996.[14] A Blu-ray edition of Fly Away Home was released on April 7, 2009.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Fly Away Home (1996)". Retrieved: May 9, 2011.
  2. "Fly Away Home Credits". Retrieved: March 20, 2010.
  3. Lishman, Bill. "William Lishman- Film". Retrieved: May 9, 2011.
  4. "Ultralight Aircraft". Retrieved: March 20, 2010.
  5. 'Fly Away Home': Leading the Flock. HBO special, airdate: August 1996.
  6. Lishman, Bill. "Fly Away Home: Behind the scenes"., 2011. Retrieved: may 9, 2011.
  7. Maslin, Janet. "Fly Away Home (1996), Alternate title: Flying Wild, Father Goose". The New York Times, September 13, 1996.
  8. Template:YouTube, March 31, 2009. Retrieved: May 7, 2011.
  9. Ebert, Roger. "Fly Away Home". Chicago Sun Times, September 13, 1996. Retrieved: March 20, 2010.
  10. Maslin, Janet. "Fly Away Home (1996)". The New York Times, September 13, 1996.
  11. Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann. "Film review: Fly Away Home"., 2009. Retrieved: May 9, 2011.
  12. "Eighteenth Annual Youth in Film Awards, 1995–1996". Retrieved: May 7, 2011.
  13. "'Fly Away Home' on DVD". Retrieved: May 7, 2011.
  14. "Fly Away Records FLY-CD 79258". Soundtrack Collector. Retrieved: May 9, 2011.