Willy the whale is back, this time threatened by illegal whalers making money off sushi. Jesse, now 16, has taken a job on an orca-researching ship, along with old friend Randolph and a sarcastic scientist, Drew. On the whaler's ship is captain John Wesley and his son, Max, who isn't really pleased about his father's job, but doesn't have the gut to say so. Along the way, Willy reunites with Jesse, who helps Max realize that whales are a little more than just cheese burgers. Written by
the screenplay for "Free Willy 3: The Rescue" follows its politically correct formula without a whole lot of style
In 1998, a man named Steinar Bastesen publicly declared his opinion that the money spent on training the captive orca Keiko should instead be spent on grinding the poor animal into six tons of meatballs as foreign aid for the starving people in Africa. This coming from the same man who would probably encourage families with more than a single pet to grind up one of their cats for the villages of China. Well, Mr. Bastesen would have probably beenand just might have been, depending if he saw the movie or notjust as infuriated by the content of the last movie that Keiko had starred in. The movie is "Free Willy 3: The Rescue," and it takes a politically correct hand holding a politically correct spear and jabs it into the guts of people like Mr. Bastesen. I support the cause all the way. I just wish I could support the movie for its dramatic content. Again, this is a review of the movie, not the movie's cause.
"Free Willy 3: The Rescue" is a prime example of an underwritten kids' movie sequel: something we unfortunately get too much of these days. It is the third anduntil just recentlylast installment in the popular franchise about a young boy (Jason James Richter) and his friendship with a six-ton whale (Keiko). In the previous two movies, Mr. Richter saved Keiko first from a neglectful theme park owner and then later from oil-infested waters. Now the threat comes from a band of poachers, the leader of whom is taking his son along on the hunt for the very first time. As one would expect, the son (Vincent Berry) doesn't conform to his father's illicit way of making a living and ends up siding with Mr. Richter to save Willy and his family.
There are good elements to "Free Willy 3." One of the promising dynamic between Mr. Berry and the superb actor Patrick Kilpatrick as his father. The latter does a particularly good job portraying a man who devotedly loves his family and blindly does what he does partially out of the desire to support his loved ones and partially because his family tree essentially demands it of him. His grandfather harpooned sperm whales so he feels he should harpoon orcas. I also appreciated how well Mr. Berry displayed enthusiasm at the beginninggoing on a big event with his fatherand then the horror when he first sees an innocent animal getting run clean through with a harpoon. The emotion in this sequence doubles the emotionand lessens the gimmicky disturbancefrom a similar scene in Michael Anderson's pretentious 1977 film "Orca." I also enjoyed Mr. Richter's third-time-around performance. The only other returning character is August Schellenberg; he's reliable as well. Apart from that, I did enjoy some of the scenery when the characters on land; there's something magnetic about looking at a coastal village: the docks, the boats, the water shoreline, the coastal trees. It's the sort of place one thinks about retiring to someday.
However, the screenplay to "Free Willy 3" follows its politically correct formula without a whole lot of style. Now the first "Free Willy" movie, released in 1993, did not say anything we didn't already know about the issue of whales in captivity, but it approached the subject with a great deal of heart. Hence why it won over the hearts of many children, myself included. But John Mattson's script for the third movie does not have very much of this, and there is zero sense of friendship between Jason James Richter and the whale. As far as the movie is concerned, these two just met for the first time and Mr. Richter is merely fascinated by the whale. And even the whale is not given much to do. The movie might as well be about a trivial whale, not one that starred in two previous pictures. The animatronic stand-ins for Keiko are utilized too often now, and the jaws open and close with too much hectic speed to convince that it's flesh and blood. A scene where the protagonist feed Willy and his mate oranges is very revealing. There's no sensation from past events, such as the time Willy saved Mr. Richter from drowning in the tank in the first film. And although Vincent Berry does have some cute scenes between him and the whale (at one point they start to play volleyball with the whale launching the ball back onto the decks of the boat), there are not enough of them.
The movie overall is a lazy effort with a rushed mindset. It ironically comes alive mostly when it is on land and is not so exciting when on the water. And even the usually interesting concluding shots of the whales swimming and leaping freely through the frigid North Pacific waters is disappointing this time around, as they are merely reusing stock shots from the previous two pictures. It's really jarring when at one point the whales are moving behind a blue sky, then a red-laced dusk setting, and then a blue one again.
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