Movie Review: Free Willy

Free Willy Trailer

Free Willy Summary

Near the coastline of the Pacific Northwest, a pod of orcas are peacefully swimming. The pod is tracked down by a group of whalers, and one of them, Willy, is trapped and sent to the Northwest Adventure Park while his family is unable to help.

Sometime later in Portland, Oregon, Jesse, a troubled orphaned 12-year-old boy abandoned by his estranged mother six years before, is caught by the police for vandalizing the theme park. On the night of his arrest, he encounters Willy. Jesse’s social worker Dwight earns him a reprieve by finding him a foster home and having him clean up the graffiti as part of his probation. His foster parents are the supportive and kind Annie and Glen Greenwood, but Jesse is initially unruly and hostile to them.

While working at the park, Jesse sees Willy again. Willy is regarded as surly and uncooperative by the park staff, including his trainer Rae Lindley, but Willy takes a liking to Jesse’s harmonica playing, and later saves Jesse from drowning one night, and the two start a bond, and Jesse also becomes friendly with Willy’s keeper, Randolph Johnson, who witnessed Jesse’s arrest and teaches him about his connection with Willy. Jesse is offered a permanent job at the theme park after probation, and also warms into his new home. 

The owner of the Northwest Adventure Park, Dial, sees the talent Jesse and Willy have together and makes plans to host “The Willy Show” in hopes of finally making money from Willy, who has thus far been a costly venture for him. On the day of the first performance, Willy is antagonized by children banging constantly on his underwater observation area and refuses to perform. Jesse, unable to get Willy to do tricks while dealing with pressure from the crowd, storms off in tears and plans to run away to find his mom. In a stress-induced rage, Willy smashes against the tank, damaging it. Later, while at the tank, Jesse says his last farewell. But notices Willy’s family calling to him from the ocean and realizes how miserable he is in captivity after discovering their voices responding to Willy’s cry. Shortly after, Jesse spots Dial’s assistant, Wade, and several colleagues sneaking into the underwater observation area. They deliberately damage the tank enough that the water will gradually leak out and kill Willy, allowing them to cash in on his $1,000,000 insurance policy.

Jesse and Randolph hatch a plan to release Willy back into the ocean, and also brought Rae into the mix. They use equipment at the park to load Willy onto a trailer, and Jesse and Randolph use Glen’s truck to tow Willy to a marina. Wade meanwhile calls Dial to inform him that Willy is missing, thinking that Rae and Randolph did it. Dial tells Wade to call Wilson as he launches a search to find the fugitives. Jesse, Randolph and Rae try to stay on the back roads to avoid being spotted, but eventually get stuck in the mud.

With Randolph and Rae unable to move the trailer, Jesse calls Glen and Annie using a CB radio in the truck. Annie and Glen show up and help free the truck, and continue on to the marina to release Willy. There, Dial, Wade, and his associates are blocking the gate. Glen smashes through the gate, turns the truck around and backs Willy into the water, flooding his truck in the process.

Willy is finally released into the water but does not immediately move, seemingly having been on dry land for too long. Wade and the confederates attempt to stop them, but Jesse and his friends fight back, trying to hold them off long enough for Willy to swim away. With Jesse’s encouragement, Willy finally begins to swim, slipping away from the battle and heading for the marina entrance. Before he can make it into the ocean, however, two of Dial’s whaling ships suddenly appear, sealing off the marina with their nets. Jesse runs towards the breakwater, calling for Willy to follow him, drawing him away from the boats. Jesse goes to the edge and tells Willy that if he makes the jump, it will be his highest, and he’ll be free. Jesse says a tearful goodbye, but pulls himself together and goes back to the top. He recites a Haida prayer Randolph had taught him, before giving Willy a signal. Willy makes the jump over the breakwater and lands in the ocean on the other side, finally free to return to his family. Jesse goes back to Glen and Annie who hug him as Willy calls out to Jesse in the distance.

Free Willy Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Free Willy isn’t talked about as much anymore but it is still a classic in my eyes. Fantastic film. I was obsessed as a kid that I own the first three. It really opened my eyes and I wanted to be a Marine Biologist growing up, heck I wouldn’t even eat seafood for 20 years. Unfortunately things happened, and I didn’t follow those dreams, but I did recently rewatch the films with my son. He know shares the same love I have with this film. It is our dream to visit Orca Island off the coast of Washington, which is where parts of the film were shot. It’s absolutely gorgeous out there and a perfect place to go whale watching for Orcas.

Signing off with this beauty.

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