Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove (DVD)
When eleven-year-old Kirra's widowed father is injured, she must leave Australia against her desires in order to live with her estranged grandfather at his run-down seaside theme park in South Africa. However, after a storm traps a baby orca in the park's lagoon, the park not only gets more visitors, but Kirra and the whale she names Willy develop an amazing friendship. Knowing that Willy will soon outgrow the lagoon and that her grandfather will be forced to sell the whale to his competitor, Kirra must not only locate Willy's pod, but also find a way to teach the young whale to survive and be free in the open sea.
More a retelling of the original 1993 Free Willy
film than a third sequel in the series, Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove
is the story of a young whale who's separated from his pod, used in a moneymaking scheme, and befriended by a young girl who ultimately makes a huge difference in the young whale's life. The film stars Bindi Irwin (daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and host of the TV nature documentary series Bindi the Jungle Girl
) in her first film, and she is surprisingly believable and passionate in her role as Kirra, if not entirely polished. Beau Bridges plays Kirra's grandfather, Gus, a down-on-his-luck gambler and owner of a dilapidated amusement park who's obsessed with making money. When Kirra's father is injured, Gus is unexpectedly saddled with caring for his granddaughter over the summer. Bongo Mbutuma, Siyabulela Ramba, and Stephen Jennings round out the cast. When a young orca becomes trapped in the lagoon at Gus's ocean-side amusement park in South Africa, Kirra and her grandfather clash over the whale's future. Kirra quickly dubs the whale Willy and pleads with her grandfather to set him free, but Gus wants to use Willy to boost profits. When a mammal rescue group determines that Willy's underdeveloped echolocation makes him unfit to survive alone in the wild, Kirra bristles at their suggestion to put Willy down, and she vows to rehabilitate the orca. Meanwhile, Kirra's grandfather contemplates selling Willy to a neighboring park owner at a handsome profit, in hopes that he will have the necessary funds to properly house and care for Willy. More than just a story about right versus wrong, Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove
is an exploration of a much more complicated ethical dilemma in which the best course of action is unclear. As the characters each struggle to choose the right path, what becomes crystal clear is the power of perseverance and the personal growth that results from love, adversity, and challenge. While the CGI graphic scenes of the orca pods swimming are admittedly poor and some other aspects of this film could have been improved, Escape from Pirate's Cove
is still a good family film with a heartfelt message. Bonus features include a fairly interesting featurette about filming on location in South Africa, Bindi's first movie diary, a quick look at the film's animal costars, two deleted scenes, and one outtake. The Blu-ray also features a pop-up trivia option that runs the length of the film. --Tami Horiuchi