Movie Review

Paddle to the Sea

Paddle to the Sea Movie Poster

US Release Date: 01-17-1967

Directed by: Bill Mason


  • Stanley Jackson
  • Commentary
Reviewed on: February 4th, 2011
Paddle-to-the-Sea meets a passing water snake.

Paddle-to-the-Sea meets a passing water snake.

Paddle to the Sea is a magical little movie (just 28 minutes long) based on the 1941 children’s book of the same name by Holling C. Holling. I remember watching it several times in school as a boy and loving its simple yet fascinating story. Only years later did I learn that it had been nominated for an Oscar in 1967 (the same year I was born) for Best Live Action Short.

Paddle-to-the-Sea is the name given to a small wooden Indian figure and canoe carved out of pine wood by a young boy living in a log cabin in the woods of Ontario, Canada somewhere north of Lake Superior. On the canoe’s bottom the boy carves the words, “I am Paddle-to-the-Sea” and “Please put me back in the water”. He then melts some lead and pours it into a small indentation he has dug out of the bottom of the canoe to keep it upright in the water. The boy carefully paints his creation. He plans to launch his handiwork on a journey all the way to the Atlantic Ocean come spring.

It is a journey of more than 2,000 miles and it takes Paddle-to-the-Sea over 2 years to complete it. He has many adventures along the way including encounters with a curious chipmunk, foraging birds, a slithering water snake, a frightened frog, a busy beaver and an alert deer.

Paddle experiences the world of mankind. He has several close calls with children. He gets hooked on a fishing line and caught in a fisherman’s net. He gets covered with slimy pollution and is nearly crushed by a towering ship, but despite these obstacles he always manages to stay afloat.

Paddle spends the winter encased in ice and snow, sails by Detroit as Fourth of July fireworks explode in the night sky and even survives the plunge over Niagara Falls. He eventually reaches the sea and is found by a lighthouse keeper. This man repaints the now faded Paddle-to-the-Sea and considers whether or not to add him to his toy boat collection or to send him off into the ocean on his way to wherever the wind and tides will take him.

The story is simple but exciting with a voice-over narration that adds a touch of drama. The cinematography is exceptional. We see much of the journey from the eye level of Paddle-to-the-Sea. Although he is just a piece of wood carved into the figure of an Indian in a canoe you will come to think of Paddle-to-the-Sea as a living character on a unique odyssey into the unknown.

Many movies from childhood disappoint us as adults. Paddle to the Sea is that rare exception. Its whimsical adventure charms me now just as it did when I was 10 and time has been kind enough to add a warm layer of nostalgia.

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