Free Willy

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Free Willy Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
A wayward boy befriends a moody killer whale.
  • PG
  • 1993
  • 112 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 26 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Depictions of trespassing, vandalism and living rough on the city streets. Climax has good guys breaking the law in order to save Willy the Whale.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jesse is a street-wise delinquent who learns about friendship and love from Willy the whale.

Violence & Scariness

One brief fistfight.

Sexy Stuff

None, unless you count the boy hero's angry use of "screw."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie is farfetched, but it's also very enjoyable. Plot complications (like insurance fraud) may be a little complex for many younger viewers. But kids, particularly animal lovers, will want to see this.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 6 and 8-year-old Written byDanzaJoy January 19, 2011

Know what you are getting into before showing to kids under 10

I watched this film when my kids were 6 and 7. I didn't know the full story. It was much darker than I expected and ended up being a big trigger for my 6... Continue reading
Parent of a 2 and 4-year-old Written byr.A.i. November 29, 2010

too much unnecessary raw facts of life

The main character has been abandoned by his mother. My 5-year-old did not need to know that mothers sometime abandon kids who need to live on the streets. Ru... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old January 6, 2017

A good movie for older children

Free Willy is a cute movie but the boy is an orphan and he does some bad things. The boy also swears a little. This movie is not good for sensitive children! C... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old May 21, 2016

Predictable but charming killer whale flick with strong messages, so-so acting.

Parents need to know that this fun family flick can get a little intense in spots, but is generally harmless. On a side note, the acting and writing for this fi... Continue reading

What's the story?

In FREE WILLY, 12-year-old street kid Jesse (Jason James Richter) is caught by police after joining his buddies in spray-painting a marine amusement park. With the blessing of a new foster dad (Michael Madsen), Jesse must work at the place and clean up the damage. There he meets an unlikely fellow rebel: Willy, an ill-tempered killer whale, netted from nearby Pacific coastal waters. Jesse befriends the moody animal, and secretly trains Willy to do tricks. The park's owner, seeing a chance to profit, has Jesse and Willy perform for customers, but Willy, aggravated by the crowds, doesn't cooperate. Management sabotages Willy's tank, to collect on an accidental-death insurance policy. Jesse finds out and rallies some fellow employees and his law-and-order foster family. In an exciting predawn mission they "free Willy" into the open sea.

Is it any good?

Free Willy's plot is predictable, none-too-original, and the title gives away the end. But FREE WILLY works swimmingly, thanks to well paced, rousing direction and a fine ensemble cast, led by the very good child actor Richter. Even with its excessive ecological propaganda, the script buoys up with surprisingly credible bonding between the alienated delinquent and a penned-up creature who, like King Kong or E.T., isn't bad; he just wants to go home. It's a cheerable, feel-good moment when the father joins his adopted son in the finale.

Longtime screen villain Michael Ironside plays the standard Hollywood-issue evil businessman, and parents should be aware of the animal-liberation indoctrination in the premise. At least the filmmakers followed their own preaching, and campaigned for the freeing of Keiko, the actual killer whale who stands in for an animatronic Willy in many scenes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about orca biology and behavior -- you might follow up with some online whale research together.

  • There's also plenty of save the whales stumping, which might excite any budding activists.

  • Talk about right and wrong? Is it okay for them to do whatever it takes to save Willy?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love feel good films

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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