Story

In Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a 12-year-old foster child. He’s described by Child Protective Services worker Paula (Rachel House) as a ‘bad egg’. He has been involved in vandalism, graffiti and theft. Ricky is fostered out to a kind-hearted couple, Bella and Hector (Rima Te waita and Sam Neil), who run a farm on the edge of rugged bushland. Ricky quickly warms to Bella, and although Hector has a gruff exterior, he begins to accept Ricky.

Just as Ricky starts to feel that he belongs at the farm, disaster strikes when Bella suddenly dies. Hector is distraught and Ricky is destined to be returned to Child Protective Services. Believing that Child Protective Services will put him in juvenile detention, Ricky decides to escape into the rugged New Zealand bush. When Hector realises what Ricky is up to he heads into the bush to bring Ricky home. Unfortunately when Hector catches up with Ricky, more bad luck strikes. Hector breaks his leg, forcing him and Ricky to stay in the bush for several weeks.

When Hector’s leg finally heals enough for the pair to limp back to civilisation, they discover that they’re the focus of a massive manhunt. The police believe that Hector, who now has a bounty on his head, is a pervert who has kidnapped Ricky. So Hector and Ricky go on the run across New Zealand, evading both police and bounty hunters. Along the way they have perilous encounters with wildlife and meet colourful characters including Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby) before they’re eventually taken into custody.

Themes

Foster care and families; child protection and child abuse; youth crime

Violence

Hunt for the Wilderpeople has violent scenes involving both people and animals. These scenes include several where Ricky shoots with a rifle. There is some blood and gore. For example:

  • A woman kills a boar with a large hunting knife. She repeatedly stabs the boar and blood splatters widely, including on her face. When asked if he’d like to help her cut the pig up, Ricky faints.
  • A massive wild boar charges at and attacks a dog. The dog yelps as it’s attacked (we don’t see the dog injured). Hector tries to kill the boar but is charged. Ricky saves him by shooting the boar. The injured dog has to be shot, and we later see the dead dog’s grave.
  • While walking through bushland Hector trips and falls. He hits his forehead on a rock and his foot gets trapped. Ricky attempts to help him by lifting his trapped foot. We hear the sound of bone breaking as Hector screams.
  • Three men holding guns walk into a cabin and point their guns at Hector. There’s a heated verbal exchange between Hector and one of the three gunmen. Hector punches the man in the face. The two remaining gunmen jump on Hector and wrestle him to the floor. At this point Ricky enters and fires a rifle into the air, stopping the fight.
  • Star Force police with automatic weapons and armed locals chase Ricky and Hector through bushland.
  • Ricky drives a four-wheel drive car through bushland while being chased by a dozens of cars, trucks, army tanks and helicopters. Ricky’s car jumps over a road and a parked caravan. Police cars fly through the air and crash into the ground. Ricky’s car crashes through a fence into a wrecking yard. It rolls over several times before coming to rest upside down. 

Content that may disturb children

Under 5
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example:

  • There are several scenes with dead animals, which have been killed for cooking and eating. The animals include possums, birds and reptiles.

When Ricky runs away from his foster parents’ farm, he makes a mannequin of himself. He sets it on fire, hoping that the people from Child Protective Services will believe that he died in a fire. The burning mannequin also sets the barn alight.

From 5-8
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • Ricky hears Hector moaning and crying and finds him cradling the lifeless body of his wife, Bella. Later Hector and Ricky scatter Bella’s ashes on the river.
  • The idea of having to shoot your own dog is likely to be disturbing for this age group.

From 8-13
The death of the dog and the scene when Ricky finds Hector crying over his wife’s body might be distressing for this age group.

Over 13
Younger children in this age group might find some scenes in this movie disturbing.

Sexual references

Hunt for the Wilderpeople has some sexual references. For example:

  • Ricky suggests that Hector should get a new wife, telling him that there are plenty of women on the internet.
  • Ricky says something about a foster father he had in the past ‘menacing’ girls.
  • In several scenes Hector is described as a child molester. Three men confront Hector and ask Ricky if Hector has ‘hurt’ him. Ricky jokingly says that the older man ‘made me do stuff’, and the men call Hector a ‘dirty perv’.
  • There is some mild flirting between a teenage boy and girl.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

Hunt for the Wilderpeople shows some use of substances and has some references to substance use. For example:

  • Adults smoke cigarettes in several scenes.
  • Characters talk about the movie Scar Face, which has people fighting over cocaine.
  • Characters talk about a rapper being a drug dealer.
  • A teenage girl talks about smoking a ‘joint’.
  • Someone says a man smells like methylated spirits.

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Burger Rings, Coke and Cadbury’s Flake bars.

Coarse language

Hunt for the Wilderpeople has some coarse language and insults.

Ideas to discuss with your children

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a heart-warming and funny movie about family, friendship and belonging. It’s also about being a teenager and rebelling against authority. There’s a real magic between Sam Neil as Hector, the gruff loner, and Julian Dennison as Ricky. As well as the serious themes, there are some very funny one-liners and moments of comic relief.

Younger children might be upset by the violence, which includes scenes of animals being killed and injured. Also the movie’s themes and coarse language mean that it’s more suitable for older viewers. We don’t recommend this movie for children under 13 years, and we recommend parental guidance for children aged 13-15 years.

The main message from this movie is that a good relationship with an understanding adult or adults can make big changes in a child’s life.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include:

  • the importance of family, including foster families
  • selflessness, as shown by Ricky’s foster parents
  • perseverance through adversity.

You could also talk about Ricky’s situation as a young offender, why he behaves the way he does, and how foster parents can turn a child’s life around. It might be worth talking about the stereotyped way that Child Protective Services and other authorities are presented and how this relates to reality.