Farai Richmond’s “Kangaroo Kids” is a new family film that had a small premiere at the end of 2023 but is finding an audience online.
Written and directed by Richmond and billed in the end credits as A Richmond Family Films Production, the result was a labor of love.
It opens with a slickly made and slapstick-enhanced heist, which was not what I was expecting. The villains introduced are wacky enough for a children’s film, but the scale of the movie is clearly bigger than the promotional materials indicated.
Josefina Baeza stars as Johnny, a young girl who works with her mother overseeing a poorly attended zoo. The arrival of Molly the kangaroo presents the possible financial windfall for the zoo, and Johnny bonds with Molly immediately. When the three criminals from the introductory sequence are hired to kidnap the kangaroo, Johnny and a swirl of characters unite to either protect Molly or her from her habitat.
“Kangaroo Kids” is presumably going for the same audience as “Finding Ohana,” the 2021 blockbuster Netflix family drama that was a major hit during the Pandemic and starred Branscombe Richmond (who plays the head of the three moronic antagonists).
The screenplay is by Ryan Lieske, Farai and Branscombe Richmond. In the narrative and editing, this needed tightening. There’s too much of everything, as the establishing scenes of the first act are overextended. The movie is about Johnny and her kinship with Molly the kangaroo, as well as the three villains who are sent to kidnap the marsupial.
That’s more than enough.
You also get a subplot with an ill child, a gold digger who schemes the kidnapping plot, a biker gang, the bullies at Johnny’s school and a villainess who resembles Black Widow. The trailer clearly lays out the plot elements, but there’s so much in the front end that the scene of Johnny and Molly meeting one another doesn’t arrive until 40 minutes in.
Hear yesterday's Tomorrow Will Be Televised episode with Sunn Stream president Garrett Sutton and Kangaroo Kids makers Branscombe and Fairai Richmond at https://t.co/hd9FC3Wr6j and podcast platforms from Fountain to Goodpods!
— Simon Applebaum (@UBCSimonTWBT) January 6, 2024
There are too many villains, as the Branscombe Richmond-led trio of dimwitted bad guys (call them The Dry Bandits) is all the film needs. Despite being overstuffed, with a jaw-dropping running time of 140 minutes (90-100 minutes would have been perfect), the elements for a good family film are here.
Fairai Richmond gets maximum value from his Kentucky locations, provides sweeping aerial footage, and especially excels at action sequences. There’s an ambitious, “E.T.”-inspired bike chase at the climax.
All the showmanship would be lost without Baeza giving a plucky lead performance. Branscombe Richmond can always be counted on to give a robust turn, no matter what the role, and he delivers; in fact, Branscombe nails the climactic monolog, which could have stopped the film cold, but instead hits the emotional peaks intended.
I also liked Mike Perl as Steve the cop, who provides a nice romance for Johnny’s mom. In fact, Melissa Lugo is excellent in the role.
In addition to a quick in-joke referencing Sunn Stream Solar (the same name of the streaming site where the film can be found), there’s also a quick shout out to Hawaii, via a license plate, and even a reference to “The Wizard of Oz.”
There’s lots of talent pouring out of the Richmond family – Fairai’s growing body of work is impressive (check out his short film, “The Tree”) while his father, Branscombe, is among the most recognizable, hardworking and charismatic character actors I can think of.
If this is the maiden voyage of the Richmond Family Films Production, then their initial production indicates a promising road ahead.
(Available on Sunn Stream, at sunnstream.vhx.tv)