You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Free Willy 3:The Rescue

For a smart animal, Willy, the resilient prince of whales, gets into an inordinate amount of trouble. His latest adventure pits him and human buddy Jesse (Jason James Richter) against illegal whalers plying the seas of the Pacific Northwest. A decided entertainment improvement over the preceding outing, "Free Willy 3: The Rescue" nonetheless faces hostile commercial waters. No longer a marketplace underdog, the franchise will have difficulty staying afloat in a particularly competitive family-film arena and, without new hooks, can expect no better than equaling the OK results of the second screen adventure. In the new yarn, Jesse has been hired as a research assistant on a floating marine biology lab, the Noah. Also aboard is his mentor, Randolph (August Schellenberg), and scientist Drew (Annie Corley). Their mission is relatively simple: Find the whales in the vicinity, rig them with a monitoring device and watch to discover what's depleting their ranks.

Jessie ..... Jason James Richter Randolph Johnson ..... August Schellenberg Drew ..... Annie Corley Max Wesley ..... Vincent Berry John Wesley ..... Patrick Kilpatrick Mary Wesley ..... Tasha Simms Sanderson ..... Peter Lacroix Dineen ..... Stephen E. Miller Kron ..... Ian Tracey Capt. Drake ..... Matthew Walker

The whales are legally protected from hunters, but that doesn’t stop poachers, whose forebears sought the animals’ oil and whose present practitioners sell the meat to Japan and Norway at $200 a pound.

Eco concerns aside, John Mattson’s screenplay fashions a compelling, adult human drama. Paralleling the Noah’s activities is a tough-minded story about John Wesley (Patrick Kilpatrick), captain of the illegal ship, and his pre-teen son, Max (Vincent Berry). The latter is taken aboard for his first fishing expedition, and, rather than finding the hoped-for bonding experience, the boy is horrified by the pursuit and killing. He’s too young to do anything physically to stop the hunt, and too immature to make sense of a less-than-ideal parent; it’s a truly poignant situation.

The ambition of the parable-type tale goes even deeper. John Wesley isn’t a cardboard villain. In fact, he seems like a decent enough guy — hard-working, thoughtful and not at all an obsessive Ahab about his quarry. Generations of Wesleys have been whalers, so he’s not about to switch to salmon or herring. Besides, he tells Max, whales are fish and don’t have feelings.

Wesley’s rationale plays perfectly into the series’ educational intent. Forget that whales are warm-blooded — Willy and girlfriend Nikki have personality to burn. They’re also extremely intelligent. These facts aren’t lost on Max, whom Jesse takes under his wing after an aborted attempt to steal onto the whaler and bring back hard evidence of the craft’s true purpose. Jesse gives the boy a full tour of the Noah’s considerable resources and a crash course in the appreciation of the deep-sea mammals.

The accomplishment of “Free Willy 3” racks up a couple of notches with the discovery that the movie cetaceans are animatronic and not blubber and blood. Walt Conti’s creations have the realistic look of “Lost World’s” dinos and considerably more emotional connection to the audience.

The land folk are impeccably cast, with Richter evolving from a personality performer into an actor with quiet authority and depth. Schellenberg once again gives Native American Randolph a dignity and strength. The filmmakers also deserve credit for the choice of Berry, a winning but thankfully not obviously huggable child, and Kilpatrick, who imbues the story’s heavy with laudable traits that enrich the dramatic texture.

Though director Sam Pillsbury has been absent from the bigscreen since 1990, he’s in total control of the wide canvas here. The film is beautifully crafted in all departments, though one can debate the necessity of Cliff Eidelman’s lush, dramatically obvious music score. It’s rarely intrusive but a letdown beside the stunning natural splendor captured by Thomas Schliessler’s camera.

Whether Willy can fuel any more screen vehicles remains in serious doubt. But if he’s to be put out to pasture, he couldn’t have asked for a better bon voyage.

Popular on Variety

Free Willy 3:The Rescue

Production: A Warner Bros. release of a Regency Enterprises, Shuler Donner/Donner production. Produced by Jennie Lew Tugend. Executive producers, Lauren Shuler Donner, Richard Donner, Arnon Milchan. Co-producers, Douglas C. Merrifield, Mark Marshall. Directed by Sam Pillsbury. Screenplay, John Mattson, based on characters created by Keith A. Walker

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Tobias Schliessler; editor, Margie Goodspeed; music, Cliff Eidelman; production design, Brent Thomas; art direction, Douglasann Menchions; costume design, Maya Mani; sound (SDDS), Rick Patton; whale design/effects supervisor, Walt Conti; assistant director, Bob Dahlin; casting, Judy Taylor, Lynne Carrow. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, July 29, 1997. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 86 MIN.

With: Jessie ..... Jason James Richter Randolph Johnson ..... August Schellenberg Drew ..... Annie Corley Max Wesley ..... Vincent Berry John Wesley ..... Patrick Kilpatrick Mary Wesley ..... Tasha Simms Sanderson ..... Peter Lacroix Dineen ..... Stephen E. Miller Kron ..... Ian Tracey Capt. Drake ..... Matthew Walker

More Film

  • Gavel Court Placeholder

    Netflix Movie Scammer Admits to Defrauding Investors Out of $14 Million

    A California man has admitted to defrauding investment groups — nabbing $14 million — by falsely claiming the money would be used to produce a feature film for Netflix. On Oct. 18, Adam Joiner, 41, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court, according to federal authorities. [...]

  • Tio-Yim

    Morelia Film Festival Highlights Mexican Indigenous Women Filmmakers

    This year’s Morelia Intl. Film Festival (FICM), with support from a FilmWatch scholarship awarded by the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will host a Mexican Indigenous Filmmakers: Identity and New Narratives forum for women directors. Issues such as diversity, identity, gender equity, inclusion and broader topics such as the challenges of film [...]

  • lighthouse

    Festival Winners, Oscar Hopefuls Vie for BIFA International Award (EXCLUSIVE)

    The long list for the coveted best international picture prize at the British Independent Film Awards includes Cannes Palme d’Or and London Film Festival winners, as well as pictures from Pedro Almodovar, Robert Eggers and Noah Baumbach. Multiple titles that have been submitted to compete for the Oscar for best international feature film are also [...]

  • Parasite

    Mexico’s Cinepolis Launching New Arthouse Distributor with ‘Parasite’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MORELIA, Mexico – There’s a new arthouse player in town. Cinepolis, one of the top exhibitors in the world, is launching a new arthouse film distribution unit in Mexico called Sala de Arte Distribucion. Focusing on auteur films that have premiered at leading film festivals worldwide, Sala de Arte launches in December with “Parasite,” Bong [...]

  • Francis Ford CoppolaFrancis Ford Coppola Masterclass,

    Francis Ford Coppola's Slam on Marvel Films Fuels Debate Sparked by Martin Scorsese

    Disparaging remarks by Francis Ford Coppola have further inflamed the debate sparked by Martin Scorsese and his criticism of Marvel and other comic book films. At a press conference in Lyon, France, where he was being honored at the Lumiere festival, the “Godfather” director said he fully agreed with Scorsese’s assessment and went even further [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent and Elle

    China Box Office: Hollywood Sweeps Up With ‘Maleficent’ and ‘Gemini Man’

    The first Hollywood blockbusters to hit China after the country’s big National Day holiday have, as expected, swept away holdover patriotic titles that had previously ruled the box office. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” edged out another new release, “Gemini Man,” to lead the pack with a $22.5 million opening weekend. While Disney’s “Maleficent” arrived in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content