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Originally published Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 3:01 PM

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Movie review

'Boy': a charming moonwalk through young New Zealander's life

A movie review of "Boy," a slight but charming coming-of-age movie from New Zealand that focuses on an 11-year-old boy who's obsessed with Michael Jackson and moonwalking.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Boy,' with Taika Waititi, James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu. Written and directed by Waititi. 87 minutes. Not rated; contains rough language, cartoonish violence. Varsity.

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Coming-of-age movies frequently deliver something real and recognizable, even if it's not enough to go beyond sketch material and support a feature-length film.

"Boy," from New Zealand, has its charms, most of them to do with Boy, an 11-year-old pop-culture enthusiast who's obsessed with Michael Jackson and moonwalking.

The year is 1984, "Thriller" is everywhere, and the kid's long-absent father turns up promising to take the boy to see Jackson in a live performance.

Boy lives on a small Waihau Bay farm with several relatives, including a younger brother, Rocky, who believes he has magical powers, and a busy aunt who delivers mail, teaches tennis, drives the school bus and sells candy.

When the grandmother leaves for a funeral, Boy witnesses Dad's gradual destruction of Boy's heroic vision of him. It doesn't take long to realize that Dad is interested mostly in the money he's buried somewhere on the farm.

The writer-director, Taika Waititi, has given himself the juiciest role. Dad is a blowhard with an instinctive ability to work on the boys' imaginations. He's seen "E.T.," which also deals with the hopes of fatherless boys, and he knows just which buttons to push.

"This used to be my room," he declares as he guilt-trips the kids, wildly twirling sparklers in patterns that suggest profanities and neon designs. (Adam Clark's cinematography creates a dreamy sense of place that's hard to shake.)

The children aren't as colorful, and they're not developed as carefully, though the well-cast Boy (James Rolleston) and Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu) are given rich fantasy lives that erupt into scenes of almost genial mayhem.

Always alive to the kids' infatuation with music, Waititi finds a bizarre new context for "Amazing Grace." And there's an irresistible singing-dancing finale that seems designed to seduce fans of "The Artist" and "Slumdog Millionaire."

John Hartl:

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