Julian Dennison and Sam Neill in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Ricky (Julian Dennison) and his foster parent, Hec (Sam Neill), escape into the New Zealand bush after the death of Hec’s wife, Bella (Rima Te Wiata), destines Ricky for a ticket back to juvenile hall in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Hec and Ricky don’t like each other all that much at first, but they warm up to each other as the film plays out, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Directed by Taika Waititi, who made a very funny vampire movie with What We Do in the Shadows (and who makes a very funny appearance in this one), Hunt for the Wilderpeople is proof that Waititi has more than laughs up his sleeves. This film has genuine warmth, great performances and, yes, some good laughs.

Neill, unrecognizable at first under his big gray beard, delivers perhaps the best performance of his career as an old codger who has a bigger heart than he realized. Dennison is good fun as the unhappy kid who just wants to be happy—and will find a way to be happy, thank you very much. The always-great Rhys Darby shows up as Psycho Sam, and I will give away no further details about his work in the film.

This is a great movie about survival, becoming buddies, and the importance of a good dog on a trip.

Meanwhile, Waititi is directing the next Thor movie. Yep, he’s making a Marvel movie. This should be interesting.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is now playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).