“There’s a treasure hidden deep within everyone,” says the title character in “The Legend of Johnny Lingo.” “The adventure is to discover it.”
There are treasures hidden deep within Hollywood, too, and sometimes the challenge is finding them. One hopes that audiences will somehow gravitate to “The Legend of Johnny Lingo,” a lovely G-rated movie coping with a marketing push easily lost amid box-office behemoths.
But therein lies a lesson: The quality of a film doesn’t correspond to the quantity of its advertising. For proof of this theorem, watch most any “blockbuster” that came down the pike this summer.
Opening Friday, “The Legend of Johnny Lingo” tells the story of a boy, Tama, who is tossed about like the waves in the movie’s beautiful South Pacific setting.
At the film’s beginning, the infant Tama is washed ashore in a canoe. Found by the island’s Malio tribe, Tama is proclaimed a gift from the God of blessedness by the tribe’s chief. But when the chief proclaims Tama his heir—despite the fact that he already has a son and an heir—the chief’s wife immediately begins sowing seeds of discord, saying Tama was actually sent by the god of mischief.
As the islanders experience hardship, they begin to blame Tama for everything, turning him into a scapegoat and forcing the chief to rescind the blessing. Tama is then shuffled from family to family, each in turn pronouncing Tama at fault for their troubles.
Tama finally lands with the tribal drunk and his daughter, Mahana, who are also seen as outcasts. But Tama decides he must flee the island, promising the girl he will one day return and care for her.
The teenage Tama sets sail and again washes ashore—this time on the island of Johnny Lingo, the wealthiest trader of the islands.
Whereas others think the boy is no good, Johnny sees potential in Tama and takes him under his wing, teaching him about honor, stewardship, sailing and much more.
As Tama struggles to discover who he really is, a kind islander tells him: “Start believing you came from a good and great god. Your life will soon change.”
Tama’s journey of self-discovery is simply and beautifully told, stacked as it is against Mahana’s devoted search of the horizon each morning and evening—her search for the boy who told her he would return.
And when Johnny’s faith in Tama is eventually put to the test, Tama must rise to the occasion.
“The Legend of Johnny Lingo” is similar to the story of the biblical Joseph, who toils for years in servanthood, but whose wisdom and dedication bring him great honor—as he works to do what is right. The film also works as a case of lost-and-found identity, which children are sure to love.
Filmed in Auckland, New Zealand, and Aitutaki, Cook Islands, the movie is “dedicated to all the Johnny Lingos in our lives,” according to the end credits.
“The Legend of Johnny Lingo” is as warm and stirring as the island-scapes it beautifully captures. The film industry needs more of this storytelling wind in its sails.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Visit the movie’s official Web site.
MPAA Rating: G
Director: Steven Ramirez
Writers: John Garbett and Riwia Brown
Cast: Johnny Lingo: George Henare; Malio Chief: Rawiri Paratene; Tama: Joe Falou; Mahana: Kayte Ferguson; Chief Steward: Alvin Fitisemanu.