It helps to have a compassionate and humane filmmaker in the director’s chair. The man behind “Boy” and “What We Do in the Shadows” not only knows how to hit a comedy beat with perfect timing, but he knows the rhythm a piece like this needs to work. With a fantastic editing team (there’s a sequence set to Nina Simone's “Sinnerman,” of all things, that is perfectly conceived and executed), he breaks “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” up into chapters, making it feel almost like a memory or the story that an adult Ricky is telling his kids later in life. It almost approaches fairy tale mythology, especially the surprisingly action-packed finale, one in which we honestly care about the fate of our two protagonists.
So much of “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” looks easy. It’s not until one considers the number of places it could have gone awry that one truly appreciates it. There are so many minor beats that produce laughs and major moments that create surprising emotion. There’s a great scene halfway through in which Hec and Ricky are high enough in the mountains that they can almost touch the sky and Hec calls it “majestical.” It’s not a real word, but we know what it means. It’s the meaning that matters in “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” It's a downright majestical movie.
Director Taika Waititi proves expert in his management of tone, such that the farcical elements, however numerous, don't detract from the very real friendship the renegades develop as they elude the world's most dedicated social services officer.