Warner Bros. // 2009 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 31st, 2010
Free him? I barely knew him!
It's not the same Willy, but it's still a huge sea-going mammal that develops an emotional bond with a precocious brat.
Said brat is Kirra (Bindi Irwin, Bindi the Jungle Girl), who's having a pretty good life in Australia until her single father injures himself and ends up in the hospital for six weeks. This means she has to go live with her goofy grandfather (Beau Bridges) in South Africa, a prospect she is not anticipating.
When she arrives, her excitement dims even further; gramps is the owner and operator of the dumpiest theme park in existence. Kirra just wants to go home -- until a freak storm plops an orca into their cove and she and Willy the refugee killer whale strike up a friendship that will be tested by a slimy rival theme park owner who wants to buy Willy and make him balance balls on his nose or something.
The main story here is likely the launch of another lucrative kids movie career. Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin and already star of her own show, makes her feature film debut and I have an idea that this isn't the last home video release that will involve her carrying mammals to their safety.
For her maiden voyage, Bindi has stuck with something clichéd and safe and, frankly, pretty lame. Will the target audience enjoy her shenanigans? Probably. She kisses Willy on the head and goofs around with her new best friends and there's a mean guy who's trying to exploit Willy that all the kids can boo and hiss at.
For my money, this is an underperforming family film, predictable, corny and, worse, boring. These Free Willy movies are supposed to somewhat adventuresome, right? Nothing really happens here, though. Willy shows up, gramps starts making money on his theme park, then he wants to sell Willy to his rival and Kirra wants to get him back with his pod and they lift him on a boat and that's it. Ho-hum.
Worse, large swathes of the film don't make much sense. How in the world does the craphole Pirate's Cove theme park stay open? It's obviously run-down and dangerous. What parents would have their kid ride on that rusty carousel pushed by a vagrant? Then there's my favorite, the fact that the marine biologists tell Kirra that Willy's sonar is messed up (because of submarines or something) and it's too dangerous to release him into the sea without his pod because he might get eaten or something, so the researchers demand that he be killed by the end of the week! Thanks, science!
How about Bindi? Well, she's cute and spunky, but her character is an annoying pain in the butt who complains 85% of the time. In other words, she has a successful career ahead of her!
A good Blu-ray accompanies her arrival on the scene, headlined by a clean and colorful 1.78:1 widescreen high-definition transfer (well-suited for the South Africa locale) and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that doesn't do a whole lot. Still, these are good and noticeable upgrades to the regular DVD release. Extras are standard-issue: on-set footage, Bindi's video diary, a featurette on the animals in the film, a pair of deleted scenes, outtakes and a Blu-exclusive pop-up trivia track.
Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove is generic but should keep the kiddos marginally entertained for 90 minutes.
Not Guilty I guess, but probably because I'm going to be a father in a week or so.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Trivia Track
* Deleted Scenes