Filmed on location in the rainforests of Costa Rica, The Blue Butterfly offers stunning close-ups of insect and reptile life as it tells the story of an entomologist who grants a dying boy his last wish. However, something seems amiss in this cinematic adaptation of an inspiring true story. Could it be a wildlife narrator?
In The Blue Butterfly, Pete Carlton (Marc Donato) is a young boy dying of brain cancer. Doctors have only given him two or three months to live as numerous, ineffective surgeries and treatments have left him wheelchair-bound due to an inability to maintain his balance. Though his cancer, and the treatment of it, have wrecked his body, it has not dampened his love of insects nor his life’s dream to catch a rare blue butterfly (the Blue Morpho) in Costa Rica. As the end of his life approaches, he passionately pleads with renowned entomologist Alan Osborne (William Hurt) to take him along on a last-minute trip to Costa Rica to capture the elusive butterfly before they are dormant for the season. Osborne is a busy man but cannot resist the one-two punch of Pete’s puppy dog eyes and his bedroom homage to insects and Osborne himself. Osborne agrees to take Pete and his mother, Teresa (Pascale Bussieres), to Costa Rica where they spend several days searching for the butterfly. On their quest, Osborne grows closer to not only Pete, but to Teresa as well. It’s quite hard to go much further in plot description without giving everything away, so I’ll stop here.
The Blue Butterfly is a beautiful film: how could it not be given its setting? The rainforests of Costa Rica are a magnet for the camera, and the cinematographer, editor, and special effects artists thankfully do not mar this natural beauty. The production values are satisfactory with an entire Costa Rican village replicated for filming. William Hurt gives a believable performance, but unfortunately, it is the only one in the film. Donato is a bit too eager and Bussieres just does not seem to care enough. Overall, the director, Lea Pool, has the characters tell us way too much rather than showing us anything about themselves. As such, she might have been better off cutting the dialogue and hiring a narrator to describe the action, “Look, a tree frog…look, a bald-headed little boy and a reluctant father figure. Let’s see what will happen here….”
As family-friendly-fare goes, The Blue Butterfly is not all bad. It is an inspiring story to be sure, and the special features on the DVD that weave together production shots and interviews with those involved with the true story are perhaps more interesting than the film itself. The Blue Morpho as an object of hope for Peter and redemption (loosely) for Osborne is effective as well and reveals how useful it can be to not just hope in an unseen future, but to perhaps find something tangible on which to pin that hope in the meantime. The Blue Butterfly is certainly an ideal film for younger viewers who are undergoing significant challenges, most obviously the terminally ill.
The Blue Butterfly (PG, 97 mins.) is available on DVD.