'Opal Dream'

FamilyEntertainmentMoviesPG Rated MoviesJacqueline McKenzie

"Opal Dream" is an exceptional family film, arriving just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Directed with sensitivity by "The Full Monty's" Peter Cattaneo, it is the antithesis of the standard synthetic Hollywood family movie, which is all too often weighed down by ludicrously exaggerated special effects and stunts and glazed over by gross humor. Adapted by Cattaneo and others from Ben Rice's novel "Pobby and Dingan," "Opal Dream" is notable for deftly balancing life's harsher moments with its possibilities for hope.

Pobby and Dingan, a boy and a girl, are the imaginary friends of blond, fragile-looking 9-year-old Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce), who lives with her parents Rex (Vince Colosimo) and Annie (Jacqueline McKenzie) and 11-year-old brother Ashmol (Christian Byers)- he prefers to be called Ash- in an opal mining community in the Australian outback. They are an attractive and loving family, eager for Kellyanne to outgrow her imaginary pals but in the meantime deciding that the kindest, safest policy is to go along with her- especially in a remote community that can hardly be expected to have a child psychiatrist in its midst.

The day does come when Pobby and Dingan do disappear from Kellyanne's imagination, but the impact upon her is not of liberation. To humor his distraught daughter, Rex goes searching for the two and inadvertently wanders onto another man's claim, causing him to be labeled a "ratter," accused of trespassing and prospecting. The community's shunning of her father not surprisingly has an adverse effect on Kellyanne.

The way in which the family's predicament plays out is inspired and a testament to Cattaneo's skill in eliciting poignancy from developments that easily could have seemed overwhelmingly sentimental, not to mention improbable. Cattaneo is well-served by the strengths that he brought to "The Full Monty": a natural screen storytelling ability, a deep affection for a hardscrabble community, skill with actors and a healthy sense of humor. "Opal Dream" acquires dimension with the realization that there's a parallel with Rex's hopes for striking it rich and his daughter conjuring up a pair of friends. For U.S. audiences, the film's setting serves to enhance its credibility, for it is surely easier to believe that a certain degree of old-fashioned honesty and decency could still thrive in the Australian outback than in just about any place in America.

MPAA rating: PG for mild thematic elements, language and some violence. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Exclusively at the Westside Pavilion, 10800 Pico Blvd., West L.A., (310) 281-8223; One Colorado, 42 Miller Alley, Pasadena, (626) 744-1244; and Regal/Edwards University Town Center 6, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 854-8818.

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