‘Finding Ohana’ succeeds as an adventure exploring Hawaiian culture

Scene from

Scene from “Finding Ohana.”

“Finding Ohana”, despite being previously acclaimed for its depictions of Hawaiian culture, has a strange start. As the film begins in New York City, the viewer is thrown into a “geocache” championship.  At the center of it all is 12 year old Piliahola (Pili) Kawena (played by Kea Peahu), racing to beat her competition.  The scene closes with her being promised a trip to geocache camp and shouting that “this is going to be the best summer ever!”  In great contrast, the next scene opens in Hawaii where she is forced to travel along with her brother, Ioane (played by Alex Aiono), and their mother, Leilani(Kelly Hu) to take care of their sick grandfather.  The Brooklyn youths are outwardly annoyed by this trip, complaining about lack of Wi-Fi and unsatisfactory living conditions.

Pili soon finds a journal originally written by a Spanish explorer.  Being a young adventurer herself, she is drawn to the story of hidden treasure and forgotten mystery.  When her grandfather once again ends up in the hospital she embarks on a journey to find the lost bounty in an effort to pay off his debt.  She is joined by island natives Casper, Hana, and her older brother, nicknamed E.  

From here, the tale follows a well paced, action packed story line that any fan of “The Goonies” or “Indiana Jones” would enjoy.  This movie makes several references to both classics, even including the actor who played Data in “The Goonies” and Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”  There are times during the film where these allusions come off as overtired and overdone, but the story itself manages to stay somewhat original.  

The movie is heavily focused on Hawaiian traditions, and delves into the nuances of culture.  The writers expertly work Hawaiian dialogue into most conversations while adding subtitles when needed or working explanations directly into the plot.  Authentic food, ways of life, and an indigenous setting teach watchers about a culture they might not have otherwise known.       

There are basic themes of the importance of family and friendship, with the main characters learning valuable lessons in the end.  The once small family of three find a home in those they meet on the island, the film credits showing them happily singing and dancing with a large group.  While the ending felt rushed and outlandish, the movie is enjoyable to watch with family.       

Grade: B+