- "C'mon, Geese!"
After her mother dies in a car accident, Amy Alden (Paquin), a 13 year old girl, moves from New Zealand to Ontario to live with her father, Thomas Alden (Daniels), an eccentric inventor whom she barely remembers (her parents split up when she was 3). Amy doesn't like the lonely surroundings, she doesn't know what to make of her father, and she misses home and her mother. Then one day, after a bulldozer has knocked down a tree on some property near their house (which Thomas is upset about), Amy discovers a nest of abandoned eggs on the ground. She takes the eggs to Thomas' barn, and they hatch into baby geese. Because of the process of "imprinting", the geese think Amy is their mother, and she takes care of them as a mother would. However, soon it will be time to migrate south, so Thomas, an amateur pilot, builds ultralight aircraft for himself and Amy so they can get the geese to fly and then be able to fly south for the winter. Along with the problems of flying, and getting the geese to fly, Thomas and Amy also have to deal with Glenn (Jeremy Ratchford), a park ranger who initially tries to pinion the geese to render them flightless (Amy doesn't respond well to this), and then wants to confiscate them when they start flying. Not only that, but Amy and Thomas' intended destination for the geese (a bird sanctuary in South Carolina) becomes a battleground between environmentalists and developers.
Though more than a few reviewers commented on the timing of the film (it was delayed after Jessica Dubroff, a seven year old girl, was killed when she was at the controls of a small plane during a transcontinental flight, along with her father and flying instructor), the film was generally well-received and is considered one of the better and more underrated family films of the time.
This film contains examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny: The Air Force base commander eventually loses the battle to keep a straight face while he's trying to rebuke Thomas and Amy for the unauthorized landing.
- Adult Fear: Your 13-year-old child tries to take the wheel of a vehicle they don't know how to operate and gets into a major crash. It's no wonder Thomas starts crying with relief when he realizes Amy is okay.
- Amy watching Thomas fall to earth after his plane breaks down, unable to do anything to help him — and keep in mind that not only is he her only living parent, but the death of her mother is also still relatively recent. Fortunately, he gets out of it with relatively minor injuries.
- As Himself: Sort of this trope: as Jeff Daniels couldn't be insured to pilot the ultralight, the scenes of Tom flying actually featured the Real Life Bill Lishman - the "Father Goose" naturalist and pilot on whom Tom Alden is based - in the cockpit.
- Berserk Button: Amy's memorable response to Glenn trying to pinion the baby geese is to hit him over the head with a bowl of popcorn.
- Big "SHUT UP!": Susan does a memorable example of this trope in reaction to the noise from the bulldozers and the guy on the megaphone. She's as surprised as anyone when it actually works.
- A Boy and His X: A Girl And Her Geese. Amy takes care of a flock of orphaned geese and eventually teaches them their migration route.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Thomas is more than a little eccentric (as is his brother David), but they're both talented, and serious, scientists.
- Chekhov's Gun: After landing at the Air Force base, Thomas makes an offhanded remark about the rudder on his plane being a little bit loose, which he treats as more of an annoyance than anything serious. This is the part that fails in flight a few days later, causing Thomas' plane to crash.
- Cooldown Hug: Susan gives this to Amy after the incident in the shower (see Naked First Impression below).Susan: Amy, listen to me. I know I can never replace your mother. No one can. But if you let me, I can be your friend. And the first rule of friends is they have to be able to trust each other, right? I promise you, nothing is going to happen to those geese. I won't let it and neither will your dad.
- Cool Old Lady: The elderly woman with the hunter rifle.
- Deadpan Snarker: Amy has her moments, such as when she sees the replica Thomas has built of the lunar module.Amy: Sure. Every home should have one.
- Disappeared Dad: Why Amy doesn't really get along with Thomas at first. While technically it was Amy and her mom who left him (presumably because he was more focused on his art projects than them), he didn't make much of an effort to stay in Amy's life after the divorce. He admits it was because he was having trouble facing the reality of his own mistakes that led to the separation.
- Downer Beginning: The car crash that killed Amy's mom (and injured Amy) happens during the opening credits.
- Gonna Need More Trope: After Thomas' first attempt at flying fails, David and Barry's first reaction is, "We need a bigger engine".
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: You can tell this is a PG-rated family film because both adults and kids react to seeing Amy and the geese flying by saying, "Oh my gosh!" Though there is one memorable exception; see Precision F-Strike below.
- Hard-Work Montage: The scenes of Thomas, Amy and the others trying to get the geese to follow Thomas in his plane so they can fly south for the winter.
- Idiot Ball: Thomas forgot batteries to the navigational system. As a result, they weren't some miles west of Baltimore, they were in Baltimore. Cue dodging buildings.
- Improbable Weapon: A popcorn bowl, funnily enough.
- Mama Bear: More like Mama Goose (hee hee!) Amy, of course; especially after the Warden tries to clip one of the goslings' wings. (He presumably intended to get to them all, but he didn't even get a chance to clip the first one before Amy intervened.)
- Naked First Impression: Thomas' friend Barry gets more than he bargained for when Thomas breaks down the bathroom door to find Amy screaming and just out of the shower.
- No Animals Were Harmed: Stated in the credits.
- Precision F-Strike: Unlike everyone else in the film, a hunter's reaction to Amy and the geese flying over him is, "Holy shit!"
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: The baby geese are positively adorable.
- Race Against the Clock: The geese need to get to the bird sanctuary by November 1st, or it reverts over to developers.
- Reality Ensues: The novelisation establishes why the park ranger didn't clip the geese' wings straight away after he abducted them; now that they've grown, that kind of operation requires more preparation than just the quick snip he would have needed to perform if he'd done it when they were still chicks.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: The Air Force base commander. He's rightfully pissed off at Amy and Thomas landing illegally at the base (and nearly getting themselves shot), but after chewing them out for a few minutes, it becomes clear he's trying very, very hard not to laugh. He and his men send them off the next morning with a salute.Amy: We promise we'll never do it again.
Commander: Okay. As long as you promise. (starts grinning uncontrollably)
- The Runt at the End: Igor, a goose with a limp which makes him run slower than the others, and who consequently can't fly as well.
- Saving the Orphanage: A bird sanctuary is threatened with demolition unless there are birds in it by November 1st.
- Scenery Porn: Good grief, there are several stunning shots that make the audience want to pack up and head to Canada.
- Sleeves Are for Wimps: Barry models a lot of sleeveless shirts throughout the movie.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Glenn, the park ranger who tries to pinion the geese.