By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Touching nature docu gets too emotional for littlest kids.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kids will hear about First Nation lore and the reasons the tribe believed that their chief's spirit was present in Luna. The documentary also explains the way orcas need to be in social units to survive -- with their families nearby.
Themes/messages include the nature of human-animal relationships, wild animals' inability to become "domesticated," the dangers that humans pose to sea animals, and the way that attempts to help can sometimes hinder a cause if we're not willing to reevaluate how and why rules are put in place. The close ties between First Nation tribes and nature are explored, as is their belief in spirits.
Positive Role Models
The First Nations tribe peacefully protests Luna's capture. Various members of the Nootka Sound community want to do what's best for Luna, even if that means possible damage to their boats.
Violence & Scariness
A man wants to press charges against Luna for ruining his motor. Another man contemplates what it would take for Luna to be put down. There's much discussion of how Luna could get hurt if he stays so close to humans. In one scene it looks like Luna's on a collision course with a paddler, but no one is hurt. Spoiler alert: At the end, news of Luna's demise is sudden and very upsetting, even though there's no footage of the accident that kills him. All of the adults viewers have met who love Luna are distraught, and a few look visibly upset.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this wildlife documentary follows a lost young orca that uses humans for his innate need to socialize. There's no age-inappropriate content in the movie, but (spoiler alert!) it does have a sad ending that could deeply affect younger viewers who aren't prepared. The relationship between the First Nations tribe and the local authorities -- and how the two groups have contrasting views of what's best for Luna -- makes for interesting conversations after viewing the documentary.
To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Where to Watch
Based on 1 parent review
Report this review
What's the Story?
In THE WHALE, a young orca is separated from his family and winds up on the coast of British Columbia. While most wayward juvenile orcas die in alienation, Luna, as he's nicknamed, desperately wants to socialize with the people of Canada's Nootka Sound. The fishing community and boaters are astonished by Luna's friendly behavior, but soon the local fish and wildlife authorities refuse to allow any contact with Luna, even by their own expert employees. Since statistics show that fish that stay too close to humans are more likely to die, the government becomes a foe of Luna's desire for community -- even setting an astronomical fine for anyone who touches or "interferes" with Luna. Complicating Luna's status is the nearby tribe of First Nations (native Canadians), who believe the whale could be the spirit of their recently deceased chief. With the law on one side, First Peoples on the other, and Luna hanging in the balance, the story follows what becomes of the killer whale who just wants to be friends.
Is It Any Good?
Produced and narrated by Ryan Reynolds, who financed the documentary with now-ex-wife Scarlett Johansson, The Whale is at heart a truly remarkable story. Unlike Dolphin Tale, in which humans actively work to save a dolphin with an amputated tail fin, the real-life fish and wildlife experts in British Columbia decide that the best thing they can do to Luna is to ignore him because he's not meant to be around people. But the authorities can't curtail Luna's extraordinary ability to connect with people, and soon his very survival becomes a socio-political tug of war between the government and the First Nations, whose chief died the very day that Luna first showed up on Nootka Sound. It's touching to watch everyone from government workers to local fisherman and community members form bonds with their seabound friend.
The movie's second half ambles a bit, and it could easily have been winnowed down to a tighter length. But just when you think the suspense of what will happen to Luna is resolved, it becomes an issue again. (Spoiler alert!) When Luna's unexpected (and in some ways unbearable) ending comes to pass, it's handled so anti-climatically that it's difficult to process. The rest of the story becomes a blur of anecdotes about the special killer whale who sought human relationships when his own kind was nowhere to be found ... but by then you and your family may be a bundle of tears.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how everyone wants to do what's best for Luna. How are each of the factions portrayed? Are there "good guys" and "bad guys" here?
How does this movie compare to other animal/nature documentaries you've seen?
What do you think the filmmakers' goal is with the movie? How do they want audiences to feel/react? How can you tell?
- In theaters: September 9, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: December 4, 2012
- Cast: Ryan Reynolds
- Directors: Michael Parfit, Suzanne Chisholm
- Studio: Paladin
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Ocean Creatures, Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: April 14, 2023
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Where to Watch
Our Editors Recommend
Best Animal Movies for Kids
Best Animal TV Shows for Kids
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate