- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

Children aren’t the only dreamers, but in our desire to help them grow up, we sometimes forget how many childish illusions to which we ourselves cling.

Such is the simple — but not unimportant — insight underlying the charming family film “Opal Dream.”

Kellyanne Williamson (Sapphire Boyce) has made her clan the joke of the small Australian opal mining town in which they live. The 9-year-old refuses to accept that her imaginary friends Pobby and Dingan are, well, imaginary.

Mother Annie (Jacqueline McKenzie) humors the girl, setting places for her friends at the dinner table and hanging Christmas stockings for them. Father Rex (Vince Colosimo) and older brother Ashmol (Christian Byers) are less complacent. The boy is mortified by Kellyanne’s performance at the Miss Opal competition. “Oh, I’m not entering,” she says when the host asks her what she’ll do if she wins. “Dingan’s entering,” she explains, pointing to the empty air beside her.

Rex has an ingenious idea to get Kellyanne to socialize with real children. He’ll take Pobby and Dingan — the former’s a boy, and the latter’s a girl — to the mine with him and Ashmol on Boxing Day, while Annie and Kellyanne attend a neighbor’s party. When Rex returns, Kellyanne finds, to her horror, that her only two friends in the world are gone.

If Kellyanne’s eccentricity made the Williamsons a running joke before, her search for two invisible persons will turn them into pariahs. The distraught girl persuades her father to look for the pair in his mine. But when his search takes him to a neighboring claim, he’s accused of being a “ratter.” Suspected of trying to poach another man’s mine, he faces the town’s anger and a magistrate.

While Kellyanne’s health deteriorates with her hopes, something strange begins to happen: The town and the Williamsons themselves find they have more imagination than they realized.

Rex may try to cure his daughter’s belief in her imaginary friends, but the unsuccessful miner is just as much a dreamer. The girl’s friends “are real to her,” Annie explains to her husband. “Just like opal’s real to you.”

Mr. Colosimo (who was incendiary in “Lantana”) and Miss McKenzie (who starred opposite Russell Crowe in “Romper Stomper” and is a star of television’s “The 4400”) are accomplished as usual here. However, it’s the two children making their film debuts who shine. Christian Byers practically takes over the film as he takes over his family. And the ethereal Sapphire Boyce is bewitching and believable in a role that could have veered into the irritating.

Peter Cattaneo (“The Full Monty”) treats his varied characters and his blazing Australian setting with an equally light touch. This heartwarming film sucks us in, making us believe in Pobby and Dingan just as some in the town realize they have all along.

**1/2

TITLE: “Opal Dream”

RATING: PG (mild thematic elements, language and some violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Peter Cattaneo. Written by Mr. Cattaneo, Ben Rice and Phil Traill, based on the novel “Pobby and Dingan” by Mr. Rice.

RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

WEB SITE: www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms/comingsoon/pobbyanddingan.shtml

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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