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 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.
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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?
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