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Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is no direct continuation of the Free Willy movies, but another orca tale with different characters and another animal who just happens to be named Willy. There is some mild fist-fighting among adults, a threat of whale poisoning, a father injured and in the hospital, a mention of the heroine's deceased mother, and some adult beer drinking.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Kirra (Bindi Irwin) is the daughter of a widowed American veterinarian relocated to Australia. When her dad lands in the hospital after an injury, Kirra has to spend the summer in coastal South Africa with her black-sheep great-uncle Gus (Beau Bridges), who runs a shabby, buccaneer-themed amusement park called Pirate's Cove. Gus is an unreliable gambler whose relationship to the family hasn't been very friendly, but Kirra comes to like him and other park eccentrics, like an African tribal lad who sings grand opera. Then a storm strands a lost, infant orca whale in the park's lagoon. Despite a bleak outlook for the marine mammal's survival, Kirra bonds with "Willy" (as she calls it) and feeds him. Willy becomes a popular attraction, and Kirra tries to stop both Gus and a more powerful, rival amusement park from permanently imprisoning and exploiting the creature.
Is it any good?
Child actress Bindi Irwin is adorable, and avuncular Beau Bridges looks at home in pirate hats. Here's amazing Movie Fun Fact: Early concepts of the hit Free Willy had the sea beast interacting with an angelic little girl. Rewrites turned the human lead into tough boy instead, and it made a big splash in the dramatics. The quasi-remake FREE WILLY: ESCAPE FROM PIRATE'S COVE shows how blandly the angelic-little-girl idea would have panned out. It's not a bad flick, just a mild time-passer, skewed to youngster viewers, and best as a kiddie South Africa travelogue, with much sunny comedy and local color, inserting cute lion cubs and penguins when the focus isn't on the killer whale (obviously digital in the underwater scenes, a puppet in close-ups).
Lovely South Africa, long off Hollywood's radar whilst entertainers boycotted the unpopular racial politics of previous governments, here basks in well-deserved cinematic spotlight. If only the filmmakers had made Gus less a softie and more a scalawag like Long John Silver, then this fish story would have much-needed salt.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about holding exotic marine animals like orcas in captivity for entertainment or study. Do you think this is right? Younger viewers/Bindi Irwin fans new to the Free Willy-verse might want background on the late Keiko, the real, live orca used in older Willy flicks, who -- thanks to pressure from the Hollywood producers -- did become subject of a controversial attempted re-release into the wild.
Besides the Free Willy movies, what other movies or books deal with this sensitive issue?
Use this as an opportunity to introduce the fine family films made by the South African filmmaker Jamie Uys, such as The Gods Must Be Crazy, The Gods Must Be Crazy II, and Animals Are Beautiful People.
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