Imagine my surprise when a Free Willy DTV arrived on my doorstep. I couldn’t even feign interest; when I was younger I liked the originals but I think that was only due to nearly everyone in my family being huge Michael Jackson fans, so my enjoyment then was really precipitated by a larger figure. Still, I pushed forward, confident that the third film in the franchise couldn’t be too bad…well, until I found it that this was actually the fourth one, with the third one apparently also being a DTV released in 1997. Furthering my research I found that those three films actually all had the same actor, so it’s with this film, Escape from Pirate Cove, that we even get a new person and a new whale to focus on. Should be exciting!…for children, anyway.
Fans of the Free Willy series will cheer this exciting family film about a baby orca who needs a friend and a girl who finds the courage to help him. After young Kirra (Bindi Irwin) leaves her Australian home to summer with her grandfather (Beau Bridges) in South Africa, she soon discovers a baby orca stranded in the lagoon near her grandfather’s rundown seaside amusement park. She names the lonely whale Willy – and embarks on a quest to lead the little guy back to his anxious pod before her grandfather’s greedy rival turns Willy into a captive, moneymaking attraction at his slick theme park. A little girl, a little orca and big, big fun and adventure!
Yup, for children. I hadn’t even seen the third film in the apparent trilogy, but it didn’t matter—this film has the same basic plot that they all did. At least it’s a different whale this time, although he’s inexplicably called the same thing again anyway. It ultimately doesn’t matter though—these films are for children and children will enjoy them. If I enjoyed the film a bit more when I was younger I may have even enjoyed it for a healthy dosage of nostalgia…but as is it’s just a terribly predictable and kid-friendly affair.
The main focus of the film is all the cute and cuddly creatures and obvious hero/villain characters thrust into the picture, which are all terribly obvious and see-through. From the moment Beau Bridges greedy, but kind, grandfather came into the picture I knew he’d be the ultimate aid to Bindi Irwin’s attempt to help free Willy. Then of course there was the villain who wanted Willy all to myself so that he could rake in a ton of money off of him…but as we all know in children’s movies good prevails over evil. Did I spoil anything for you there? Probably not. In the end it’s up to Kirra to help free Willy from his new prison (after being trapped inside of her grandfather’s “Pirate” tourist attraction after a violent storm at sea) and, predictably, she succeeds. Hooray!
While the film is predictable and mostly a chore for anyone over the age of nine to sit through, there are at least some visual distractions to focus your eyes on. As I said before the animals are disgustingly cute (and Bridges character inexplicably has a pet penguin, so you know…another black and white animal to fawn over) and the scenery itself is pretty gorgeous to look at. The actors are all pretty good as well and I was particularly surprised by how good Bindi Irwin’s acting was; of course she’s the daughter of the late and great Steve Irwin, so it’s no real surprise that she has talent in her but this was the first big display of said talent. In a nutshell the film is adequate for a children’s flick, but unless you’re kind of die-hard fan of the franchise then there’s not much here that’s worth anything past a Rental. I question how popular this movie will even be after the recent killer whale incident that was spread across the news, but I guess we’ll find out when it drops on March 30th.
Warner releases yet another Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack, packed inside a standard two-disc Elite Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover (which is neither embossed nor foil reflective, so…it’s kind of boring). Inside are the usual inserts and the like, but nothing overly surprising.
Video is a VC-1 encoded effort and although it’s a low-budget DTV affair, it still looks pretty good. The settings themselves are nice enough to look at, so there’s some good eye-candy in that regard. Detail is strong and high, with colors adequately leveled out as well. The film won’t blow you away with any kind of exceptional clarity or detail, but it’s good enough for what it is: a DTV children’s movie based on a nearly two-decade old franchise. Audio is similar with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix leading the pack, but it’s such a quiet film for the most part (aside from the at-sea sequence with the storm early on in the film…that was noisy and made use of the surrounds and LFE) that it seems kind of superfluous.
“Meet My Wild Co-Stars”
“Bindi’s First Movie Video Diary”
“Greetings from South Africa”
“Free Willy Pop Up Fun Facts”
All total it’s only about twenty-minutes or so worth of extras, none of which will really interest anyone other than (you guessed it!) the young audience that the film itself shoots for. It’s clear Bindi Irwin is excited about being on her first film, but I’m just not that excited to watch it so I can’t join in her giddiness.
Overall a decent package for an OK DTV entry into a fair series that I honestly doubt many children of today’s world have even heard of. Worth a Rental for the young ones, but nothing else.
Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.