When 12-year-old Pili wins a competition to attend a summer camp for geocaching (a form of modern-day treasure hunting where participants around the world use GPS devices and clues to find hidden containers), she couldn’t be more thrilled. She loves a good treasure hunt.
But after her grandfather has a heart attack and is put on bedrest, Pili’s mom moves Pili and her brother, Ioane, back to Hawaii for the summer to help take care of him.
Upon arrival, the kids are devastated to learn that their grandfather, Kimo, has no WiFi. But their mom, Leilani, is more concerned about the fact that her dad is about to lose his home due to unpaid bills. Now she has to decide whether she should sell their apartment in New York to pay off his debt or force him to leave the house he built in Hawaii to come live with them.
Kimo would rather die than leave Hawaii. But that’s not even his biggest issue. What’s really bugging him is the fact that his grandchildren can’t speak Hawaiian, they don’t know how to Hula dance and they don’t understand the traditions of their culture.
So, what should have been the best summer of Pili’s life is quickly turning into the worst summer.
However, after discovering the journal of an old privateer named Monks with directions to an actual hidden treasure, Pili’s hopes are restored. People have been searching for Monks’ treasure for years. And if Pili can find it, she’ll not only prove her skills as a geocacher extraordinaire, she’ll also be rich—rich enough to pay off Kimo’s debts and keep their apartment in New York.
Kimo is stubborn and refuses to admit that when Leilani left Hawaii with her kids, he was hurt and lonely. And Leilani, for her part, is angry that her dad never bothered visiting them in New York even though she was clearly struggling after her husband’s death. However, after a near-death experience, the two realize that they were both at fault for that 11-year separation. They apologize, admitting how much they love and missed each other and agreeing to make things right with their family.
Pili and Ioane constantly bicker—as siblings are wont to do. But after witnessing the mutual kindness of Hana and Casper, two kids who help them search for the treasure, they realize that perhaps they’ve been taking their arguments too far. Perhaps, they realize, they should try to be a little nicer to each other.
Kimo feels a kindred responsibility to Hawaii and the people who live there. He is part of a community that takes care of one another like family. When Ioane acts like a jerk towards Casper and Pili, Hana calls him out, pointing out that because they are older, they need to set a good example. The kids each wind up facing a fear in the cave, but they help each other through it, offering encouragement along the way.
Ioane is rude to his mom when she says they have to move to Hawaii, angry that she hasn’t always been there for him and Pili—especially when Leilani is suddenly willing to drop everything for her dad, whom she hasn’t seen in 11 years. While she points out how difficult it is to be a single parent, she sees his point and decides to discuss it with her kids and make the decision as a family.
We hear stories about the lapu, the ghosts of Hawaiian warriors that protect sacred lands. Ioane tells Pili that if you look at a lapu, your face will melt off, and you can always tell they’re coming because you’ll hear drums and horns. While this is treated as a joke by Ioane, the locals take it seriously, with one girl placing an offering of food at the entrance to a cave just in case it turns out to be a tomb.
This turns out to be prudent since the cave was indeed a tomb. And when Ioane tries to take some of the gold left there, the kids are hunted down by the lapu, drums and all, carrying blue flame torches and weapons. (We also later hear that Monks’ crew was killed because they disturbed this same tomb.)
However, the lapu do not attack the kids because Pili gives the gold back. And when Leilani chances a glance at the lapu, she sees the ghost of her husband, Kua, and their kids get a chance to see him one last time as well before he and the other lapu dissolve into blue lights and leave. (Later, it is explained that because Kua is a “fallen soldier,” their family was protected from the whole face-melting thing.)
When Pili opens Monks’ journal, it glows gold. However, this seems to be her imagination rather than an actual glowing. When Casper buries a dead bird that he found, Kimo explains that this is to honor the animal’s spirit. We hear that Kimo had coffee with two Mormons.
Ioane and Hana kiss and cuddle in a montage of scenes near the end of the film. They nearly kiss several times throughout the movie, and the first time he sees her, she is in slow motion for dramatic effect. Ioane says that a girl from his old school agreed to make out with him. We see an old home video with Leilani sitting on Kua’s lap, and it is implied they kissed since Ioane covers Pili’s eyes.
We see a couple of shirtless men and one shirtless boy. Ioane makes several comments about his and Casper’s “nips,” and Pili calls them “man udders.” We hear a comment about male genitals when a boy enters cold water. Someone says an actor is “hot.” A boy flirts with a girl.
After finding multiple skeletons in a cave (including one with a bullet hole in its skull and another with a knife in its ribs), Pili imagines that there was a battle. Though several characters are knocked down during the reenactment of this sword fight in her mind’s eye, none are wounded or killed onscreen, with the victors stating they’ll come back later to finish off their opponents. (Although we do see a man “stab” a man lying off camera with a loaf of bread.)
Pirates decide to mutiny when they discover their captain plans to kill them and keep their treasure for himself. We see them holding swords and pistols.
We hear that two men were killed by the lapu. We hear that a man was nearly beaten to death but later discover his injuries were the result of going down a waterfall.
A teenager nearly drowns after falling down a waterfall but is saved with CPR. Ioane gets bitten by a poisonous spider which causes the skin at the bite site to swell, fill with puss and eventually to become necrotic. Casper refuses to kill another non-poisonous spider since it is endangered. The kids are all scraped up badly while traveling through the caves and nearly crushed by falling rocks multiple times. We learn that Kua died while deployed with the Army.
Ioane play-punches Pili and she twists his nipple in return. Pili knocks over and nearly punches Casper when he accidentally scares her. Several people dive out of the way when kids nearly run them over on bikes.
We hear three uses of “h—” (twice sarcastically referring to the place) and one use of “a–.” Characters also exclaim “balls” three times. There are several other near-misses with substitutes “heck” and “dang it.” The s-word is cut off once, and we also hear characters exclaim, “What the …” twice. God’s name is misused eight times and we hear the term “jeez” three times.
Other exclamations and insults include “buttface,” “butthead,” “butthole,” “loser,” “stupid,” “bunghole,” “crap,” “suck” and “whack.”
There is no drug usage onscreen, but Leilani is seen using nicotine patches.
We hear several comments about how tourists and thrill-seeking treasure hunters have ruined the landscapes of Hawaii, disturbing old tombs and eroding roads by traveling to places that locals avoid out of respect for the land.
Bats scare the kids a few times in the caves. Ioane, who is scared of spiders, screams when he sees a giant wolf spider. And while Casper explains it is harmless, both boys become terrified when another large poisonous spider crawls onto Ioane’s hand with babies covering its back.
Pili says she is “too progressive” to apologize. She also says she learned Spanish because she was tired of explaining to people that she wasn’t Puerto Rican. Someone says adults are dumb. People lie and steal. Ioane says he broke one of Pili’s possessions on purpose.
We hear several toilet-humor jokes. We also see a boy vomit and a girl wipe a very snotty nose on her arm. A boy gags when he realizes he put a dead man’s ring in his mouth. Ants cover a dirty kitchen sink.
If you ask me, Finding ‘Ohana is a modern-day Goonies. Hidden treasure that nobody ever found: check. Group of kids with a map that leads straight to it: check. Parents who are about to lose their home if they don’t come up with cash quick: check. Lovelorn teenagers travelling with the kids: check. Someone saying, “Hey you guys!” Check!
But there’s also a big focus here on “’ohana”—the Hawaiian word for family. And even though Pili and the others weren’t looking for it, that’s exactly what they find. Though Kimo and Leilani are both too stubborn to admit it at first, they missed each other. And being together again forces them to address that truth and to reconcile. In addition, it helps Leilani realize how far she’s drifted from her kids, even though she lives with them. Pili and Ioane miss their dad, but living with a mom who’s never there for them made them feel even more abandoned, just like Kimo.
But as touching as this family’s story is, the film still has some problems. Language is light, but the way the kids talk to each other is still pretty rough and unnecessary at times. And while we don’t see any bloodshed on screen, knowing that the Lapu killed several men (and attempted to kill Pili and her friends) is more than a little unnerving—especially when you consider that these are ghosts. It should also be noted that even as a fully-grown adult, I screamed out loud when Ioane got attacked by the spider and all her spider babies.
At the end of the day (and of the film) it, was never about finding treasure, but about finding ‘ohana. That being said, any family planning to watch will probably need to navigate some mild issues and peril issues before watching Pili navigate through the caves of Hawaii.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.