Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove

  • Review Date: March 27, 2010
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2010
  • Running Time: 101 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Mild orca-tainment with adorable Bindi Irwin.
  • Review Date: March 27, 2010
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2010
  • Running Time: 101 minutes





What parents need to know

Educational value

There's science about whale family systems, behavior and echo-location, though it's a bit misleading to show non-pros with makeshift gear (reel-to-reel tape players, anyone?) achieving a whale communcations breakthrough.

Positive messages

The point is made (hammered home in previous Free Willy movies, so not much new here) about
the moral problems of keeping a gigantic wild animal in captivity.

Positive role models

Kirra is headstrong but pretty much correct in everything, and spearheads the scheme to free Willy from the outset. Native (black) South Africans are relegated to supporting roles, but they're not stereotyped and take an active part in the righteous campaign. Shady Uncle Gus repents and does the right thing, though there's never much question that he would. Eco-preaching and evil-businessman/developer types are less
strident than in other movies in the series, but they're there.

Violence & scariness

Adult fistfight-scuffling with two marauders. A character is hurt in a fall.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable

"Gosh" and "sack of scum" is as severe as it gets.


No explicit products, unless you count the whole Free Willy series that came before and South Africa being postcard-gorgeous. The DVD is heavily front-loaded with trailers and video-game ads, however.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Grownup beer drinking.

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?


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. Child actress Bindi Irwin is adorable, and avuncular Beau Bridges looks at home in pirate hats. 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.  

Families can talk 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.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:March 23, 2010
DVD release date:March 23, 2010
Cast:Beau Bridges, Bindi Irwin
Director:Will Geiger
Studio:Warner Home Video
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Ocean creatures, Wild animals
Run time:101 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:mild thematic elements

This review of Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent Written byIslandgirl140 November 21, 2011

Just be careful and know your child.

Hard for sensitive kids especially with the poisoning of the orca scene. My 7 year old son couldn't finish and left hysterically crying from the room.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Adult Written byAlaskaSebiria December 22, 2010

Nice try, but the original is tons better!

It was a cute movie for kids, but it could not compare to the original. I loved the original Free Willy as a kid, and I still do. I watched this out of curiousity, and I thought it was a pale rip-off. I don't see why the real Free Willy should get a remake anyway, it didn't need one. To parents, I would recommend to buy your kids the original. It's an overall better movie, this one is more for little children if you ask me. It's not bad, but just not as good.
Parent of a 3 year old Written byRoyMom December 7, 2010

Near 4 year old loves it. I do, too, aside from fist fight.

My near 4 year old boy can't get enough of this movie. After watching Bindi's character, he says girls know all about "dolphins." (I stress it's an orca, but whatever, lol.) I'm not fond of the fist fighting scene, but we talk about how it's not a good way to act. He loves telling us how this "dolphin" eats fish and others don't. Excellent family movie. Lots of fun.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great role models


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Essential School Tools