Rated: PG Reviewed by: Chris Release date: July 16, 1993 Released by: Warner Brothers
We've all seen the story about a boy and his dog, well this one has a twist, it's about a boy and his killer whale.
Jesse (Jason James Richter) is a 12-year-old orphan who lives on the streets of Seattle after being abandoned by his mother. He survives by stealing food and begging for money
Jesse is a tough little kid who has been bounced around from different foster homes. He keeps running away because he's waiting for this mother to return, so he won't allow himself to get close to anyone else.
Jesse finally meets his soulmate after being arrested for spray painting graffiti on a tank in a rundown water park. His punishment to clean up his mess at the park gives him a chance to meet Willy, a 7,000 pound whale - and it's love at first sight.
Until meeting Jesse, Willy had refused to be trained by the park trainer (Lori Petty) or the American Indian (August Schellenberg) maintenance man, because he missed his family too much. He only swam in circles while making sad moaning sounds.
Once Willy gets to know Jesse, he starts to mimic the boy's gestures, waving his fins, spinning in his tank and leaping his massive body into the air on command. Boy and whale instantly bond with each other.
Jesse, in the meantime, moves in with new foster parents (Jayne Atkinson and Michael Madsen), who try their best to make him feel loved, but the boy remains sullen and moody, finding it hard to relate to anyone but the whale. Jesse only turns to the couple when he needs their help to free Willy.
The story is predictable, in fact the title of the movie gives away the outcome, but it's well written, acted and directed.
Richter is a very natural young actor. He's believable as both the fresh, mouthy street urchin and later, as the softer, lonely little boy after he meets Willy. The magnificent power and majesty of the whale, which is beautifully photographed, is awe inspiring. The whole family will have a tear in their eyes over Willy's plight, but they'll be cheering at the end when he gains his freedom. Free Willy is a heartwarming story that builds to an exciting climax that will please everyone.