We’re going Hawaiian this week! So naturally I gotta start with the native greeting. But Aloha means more than hello. It also means goodbye (but disregard that. We are just getting started!) And more. OH SO MUCH MORE.
Netflix’s Finding ‘Ohana is almost entirely driven by this spirit of ALOHA, which is actually the embodiment of… well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’ll unpack that later.
Cache’ing a Wave
At the center of Finding ‘Ohana is Pili (newcomer Kea Piahu), a precocious 12-year-old with a knack for finding things, which is illustrated in an exhilerating opening sequence where she races against time on a bicycle through Brooklyn in a not-so-friendly (these kids mean business!) competition of geocaching.
What is geocaching? It is essentially a real world, outdoor treasure hunting game where participants locate objects using GPS devices. Pili is good. So good, in fact that she wins a trip to a Geocache summer camp!
“BEST SUMMER EVER,” she announces! Or not? Her single mother, Leilani (Kelly Hu) has other plans. Namely dragging Pili and her self absorbed teenage brother, Inone, who goes by “E” (Alex Aiono), to O’ahu, Hawaii to visit their grandfather, Kimo (Branscome Richmond). No WIFI? No cell signal? NOOOOOOOO!!
Her grandfather is a grump. With heart troubles and money problems, he needs help. But he doesn’t want it. Just when Pili’s worst summer ever predictions seem imminent, things lighten up considerably when she comes across a journal passed down through their ancestors and they bond over its mysteries.
The journal’s contents are filled with clues left behind from pirates centuries ago that supposedly lead to HIDDEN TREASURE. Pili becomes obsessed. It is the ultimate geocache challenge!
Times to Treasure
The story of the pirates and their story of loss and betrayal is great fun and brought to life by Pili and her friends as it is narrated through flashbacks in a fashion familiar to fans of Ant-Man and Drunk History. An over the top trio played by Chris Parnell, Marc Evan Jackson, and Ricky Garcia, have words put in their mouths with updated language and teen slang. It’s SICK.
Pili sets out on an adventure to conquer the journal’s mysteries, but she isn’t alone. Joining her is E and neighbor friends Hana (Lindsay Watson), a teen girl in tune with the island’s traditions, and the sweetly weird Casper (Owen Vaccaro). She soon finds that a centuries old book is far more challenging than GPS, at one point exclaiming, “Why did old times people have to talk all poetic and crap? Just tell me where to go!”
It is an action-packed journey wrought with peril and dangerous obstacles (“Is the floor literally lava?”), punctuated with moments of comedy, light teen romance, and touching family moments.
The film wears its influences on its sleeve, name checking Indiana Jones at least twice and The Goonies also immediately comes to mind. Heck, an alum of both, Ke Huy Kwan, is in the cast! Adult viewers should enjoy the nostalgic vibes.
There is a subplot involving the adults that detracts from the action and brings the momentum to a slow. It plays nicely into the themes and lessons of the movie, so we can forgive it, but *YAWN*, let’s spend more time with the kids!
Coming to Terms with Island Terms
You will hear a few words in the Hawaiian throughout the movie. To understand and more appreciate the film’s message, it would help to know them. So here is a quickie glossary…
The obvious one, because it is right there in the title – Finding ‘Ohana! ‘Ohana, as viewers of Lilo and Stitch would already know, means family, but it’s more than that. It’s all inclusive. More than just a bloodline, it is the family you choose.
Pili and E have Hawaiian roots that inform who they are, but every facet of their lives revolve around their identity as New Yorkers, sometimes to a fault. Case in point, Pili learns Spanish because so many people in Brooklyn mistake her for Puerto Rican that she felt it was easier to just play the part! It is her journey towards this understanding ‘Ohana that is the heart and soul of the film.
As mentioned at the beginnings of this review, Aloha is multilayered, a quintessential Hawaiian term! The literal meaning is “the presence of breath” or “the breath of life.” It is love. It is compassion. It is a mutual respect with one another through sending and receiving a positive energy and living in harmony.
Pili and her grandfather share a tender moment that illustrates this and neatly ties into ‘Ohana:
Kimo: "Aloha is how we treat ourselves, how we treat others. How we know where we’re supposed to be in this life. Kuleana, our responsibility, how we take care of this island. And Aloha is a big part of you. You know why? Because you… Hawaiian. And you get Koko, Hawaiian is in your blood.”
That speech introduced two other terms.
Kuleana, loosely translated to “responsibility,” is also a uniquely reciprocal relationship between whoever is responsible and the person or thing they are responsible for.
And also Koko, which means “blood,” but not literally the blood that runs through our veins, but something deeper that connects to both the land and ancestors.
The spirit of Aloha is on full display in Finding ‘Ohana, as each kid is given his or her moment to shine, lifting one another up, covering each other’s weaknesses with their own strengths.
- As you find ‘Ohana, consider your own cultural identity and traditions and how it informs who you are and who your family is.
- In the spirit of Aloha and the inclusive nature of ‘Ohana, take some time to check in with a friend this week. Say hello and lift them up with some positive energy and open yourself up to receiving the same.
- Treasure hunt, anyone? Try geocaching as a fun family activity.
Where to Watch and Further Reading
Have you seen Finding ‘Ohana yet? Have you had any Aloha experiences of your own? Share in the comments below!
ALOHA! (Goodbye this time)
Director: Jude Weng
Screenwriter: Christina Strain
Cast: Kelly Hu, Kea Peahu, Ke Huy Quan, Alex Aiono, Lindsay Watson, Owen Vaccaro, Brasncombe Richmond
Scott is a movie lover who brings over 20 years experience in mental health, journalism and vocational ministry. He has a Masters of Divinity degree, which is not nearly as amazing sounding as Masters of the Universe, but it is what it is. It is here at Movies That Move Us where his powers combine! It is not uncommon to find him pretending to open automatic doors using The Force.