“Don’t let that whale get away.” “Go, Willy, go.” These two sentences are probably the ones you thought you would never hear a character say out loud on screen. Well, at least the first one. But both these lines are uttered at different instances in the 1993 feature Free Willy, which was helmed ably by Simon Wincer. Wholesome to the boot, Free Willy, as the name suggests, is about freeing an elderly predator whale Willy from its captive status. And that task is led by a teenager called Jesse (a very convincing Jason James Richter). Now both Jesse and Willy are heroes of Free Willy. They take turns to share the spotlight, although if you are a softie like me when it comes to 90s family dramas, you will be thoroughly enraptured by Willy.
As the movie progresses, director Wincer and writers Keith A Walker and Corey Blechman take great care to establish a lasting and strong bond between our ‘two leads’. Jesse is an abandoned child who grew up in foster homes and is yet to find a true familial connection with someone. Meanwhile, Willy, against its own will (pun intended), has been estranged from its family. What we see next is these lost souls finding a family in each other. Yes, it is a bit soppy and extremely predictable, but it still makes for an endearing watch.
Richter, who portrayed Jesse, was a teenager when the movie came out, but the nuance and maturity he evokes through his acting is far beyond his age. Add to that, the lovely background score of Basil Konstantine and the pure nature of Robbie Greenberg’s cinematography, and you have yourself the recipe for the perfect heartwarming feature.
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There is also some interesting asides in the movie about protecting our environment and wildlife. The enslavement of beauty for man’s greed is also a running theme throughout the film. Director Simon Wincer forces us to reevaluate our priorities and put friendship and preservation of life before everything else in the way only a 90s movie can.
You can watch Free Willy on YouTube.