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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Whale Rider has some tense family confrontations. The death of a mother and baby in childbirth is very sad. A character is injured but ultimately recovers. There's brief strong language regarding female and male genitalia. Characters drink and smoke, and there's a brief drug reference (a bag of marijuana and drug paraphernalia are shown). The movie presents a minority culture with great dignity and respect, and the theme of equality is exceptionally well handled. Despite her youth, heroine Pai demonstrates extraordinary strength of character as she learns all that the next leader of her people must learn, trying to keep it secret from her disapproving grandfather. The grandfather hurtfully dismisses her but comes to accept her and the idea that a female can lead.
What's the story?
WHALE RIDER is set in the Maori community of New Zealand. According to legend, the Maori came to Whangara when their great leader Paikea led them by riding on a whale. Ever since, the Maori have been led by the descendants of that leader. The movie begins with the birth of twins, the latest in that line. But the boy twin and his mother die. Over the objection of the current leader, Koro (Rawiri Paratene), the girl twin is named Paikaea. Her heartbroken father leaves New Zealand, and Pai is left to be raised by her grandparents. Koro loves Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) deeply, but he is still bitter about not having a male heir. When she is 12, Koro assembles the local boys to begin to train them in the traditions of their culture and test them to see who has the courage, skill, wisdom, and leadership. It is clear to her grandmother (Vicki Houghton) and to Pai herself that she has all those qualities, but Koro, struggling fiercely to maintain the Maori pride and identity against the assaults of the modern world, cannot allow himself to consider such a change.
Is it any good?
Writer-director Niki Coro perfectly suits the style to the story. The modest buildings in the midst of the starkly beautiful setting convey the contrast between the timeless culture of the Maori and the ephemeral artifacts of the modern age. Pai's perceptiveness and quiet persistence are always evident, but when she finally speaks from her heart, standing on stage in a school production, wearing traditional garb, she is purely luminous. Whale Rider is not only genuinely lyrical, but, even harder to manage, it is lyrically genuine. A must-see for families of tweens and up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the traditions in Whale Rider and the traditions of their own cultures. Which ones do you think are important to pass down? Which do you think need to evolve?
What makes Pai such a strong role model?
Have you ever been told you weren't able to do something because of your sex or age? How did you handle the issue?
- In theaters: June 6, 2003
- On DVD or streaming: October 28, 2003
- Cast: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton
- Director: Niki Caro
- Studio: Newmarket Film Group
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief language and a momentary drug reference
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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.