What do you get when you combine the charming Hawaiian culture and family values of Lilo and Stitch with the fun but perilous treasure hunting adventure of The Goonies? You’ll end up with Netflix’s Finding ’Ohana, directed by Jude Weng and written by Christina Strain. Released on January 29, 2021, the film follows four kids on a mission to find long-lost treasure, hidden deep within the volcanic mountains of Hawaii.
Finding ’Ohana opens with two siblings living in Brooklyn, Pili (newcomer Kea Peahu) and Ioane (Alex Aiono). Twelve-year-old Pili is completely engrossed in geocaching competitions, while Ioane is a high school senior and busy chasing after both girls and college dreams. Their summer plans are suddenly turned upside down when their grandfather Kimo, who lives in Oahu, suffers from a heart attack. Packing their bags with their headstrong single mother, Leilani, leading the way, the two siblings only see a boring and uneventful summer ahead of them.
However, their unprecedented trip to Oahu is anything but boring. While their Papa’s house looks rundown and may not seem like much, after doing a little digging, Pili discovers a secret journal among Kimo’s things. After spending some time translating the journal, Pili comes to the realization that there is Spanish gold hidden somewhere on the island. With her geocache senses tingling, she is eager to track down and find the treasure, so she can help pay Kimo’s bills and also return to Brooklyn as soon as possible.
What follows is a crazy island adventure with all kinds of twists and turns. Pili heads off to find the treasure with her new friend Casper in tow, and while she initially tries to make her mission discreet, Ioane quickly catches up with her. He is joined by Hana, another new Hawaiian friend, who Ioane immediately scopes out as a possible romantic interest. After all four of them find themselves trapped in a cave, they decide that the only way out of the mountain is to follow the treasure hunting path, set by the famous Spanish colonizer and adventurer Monks. They must overcome various trials and tribulations, from collapsing bridges and venomous spiders to desecrated tombs and Hawaiian ghost warriors.
The history of the treasure is revealed through goofy voiceover parodies, following the formula of the popular comedy skit Drunk History. As Pili and Casper explain the information written in the journal, Monks, along with fellow shipmates Brown and Robinson, are acted out as silly spoofs of what would otherwise be an epic origin story behind the hidden gold. While the caricatures of these historical figures add some wacky comedy to the film, it is childish in nature and slightly cringey at times.
Speaking of cringey, the acting and dialogue presented in the film need to be addressed. As cute as the child actors are, their line delivery falls short in certain scenes. Pili may be an adorable and spunky Brooklyn-raised kid, but unfortunately, her acting feels too fakey at times. It should be noted that the kids’ acting isn’t entirely to blame; a lot of the dialogue contains way too much cheese and lazy writing to be considered good. This trait is especially evident in conversations that take place between Ioane and Hana. Their interactions and relationship development are a pretty bad combination of high school drama, cliche rom-com, and forced romance. Even when they predictably end up together at the end of the film, it’s hard to feel like rooting for them.
The overall journey that the kids take to find the treasure, arguably one of the most crucial parts of the film, was also mediocre at best. Like I’ve said many times already, this film was supposed to be an homage or modern rendition of the classic Goonies movie, but it doesn’t come through with upholding the same adventurous charm and excitement that The Goonies had. The path that the kids take to find the treasure is much too easy to foretell, from crawling through a claustrophobic cave to walking along a dangerous ledge with lava bubbling underneath. While these concepts sound exciting, the way the actors go about interacting with the set is too bland to be believably dramatic or exhilarating.
While the film may have fallen short in one of its most important components, it came through strongly with a different theme: family ties, Hawaiian culture, and what it means to be ’ohana. The film does a good job of showing how Pili and Ioane are disconnected from their Hawaiian heritage and culture, and the influence that growing up in Brooklyn has had on their personal identity. On the other hand, Kimo loves the island so much that he refuses to leave, and he has a hard time understanding why his grandchildren don’t connect with Hawaii the way he does.
As the film progresses, both sides begin to understand each other a little better. While Kimo appears gruff and hard to reach on the outside, he is actually very compassionate and loves his family more than anything. Pili and Ioane learn why Hawaii is so important to their grandfather, and also interact with Hawaiian culture in ways that weren’t possible before in Brooklyn. Leilani, who is caught in a weird middle ground for most of the film, learns to balance both her love for her father and for her children. The scenes that show these various family values, as well as the sweet interactions between the generations, are lovely to watch.
To wrap it all up, while Finding ’Ohana was supposed to be a nice 50-50 combination of Lilo and Stitch and The Goonies, instead it was a really bad adventure movie with a few good scenes about familial relationships. The treasure hunting scenes unfortunately didn’t fulfill the massive expectations left behind by the iconic Goonies, and they were too bland and poorly acted to be exciting enough on their own. However, the film is made better by the touching narratives of family, love, and identity. Watch the film for the gorgeous Hawaiian scenery, but certainly not to relive your childhood excitement for The Goonies.