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KIDS ON FILM

Emotions Run High in Wake of 'Free Willy'

July 15, 1993|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for The Times' View section. and

In "Free Willy," Jesse, a troubled boy living with new foster parents, befriends a killer whale at the local sea park, helps train him, then tries to set him free when mercenaries threaten the whale. (Rated PG)

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Noisy sobs filled the theater at the conclusion of this boy-meets-whale tale. Even though the tears flowed from sentimental grown-ups, most kids said they were starting to see how even little people can actually like stories that make them feel like crying.

"I thought it was great," said Matt, 10, who had a "Free Willy" button pinned to his shirt. "It had a lot of emotion in it.

"It was mostly sad emotions. Like when they were trying to hurt the whale." But then, he said, "there were funny parts as they were trying to rescue him."

Parts of the movie made Erin, 11, mad. "I didn't like the way how the bad men were treating the whale." Her hackles were raised, she said, because "it felt like you were really there. Like when the bad men tried to open the cage and the water was coming out. You just wanted him to get out."

Jesse himself had quite an attitude, observed Brent, 8. "He had a temper and he threw the baseball at the window and broke it and kicked the trash can . . . because he failed. The whale didn't do what Jesse wanted him to do."

So, did Brent really believe, as the filmmakers put forth, that a wet, rubbery mammal could become a Lassie-like pet for a boy, understand English and gesture yes and no with his head? Sure! Well, some of them. "If they're Shamu or something."

Only 7-year-old Chris found the movie boring. He'd seen better tricks at Sea World, he said. Willy, he said, "should have made higher jumps." So much for Lassie.

But the training scenes fascinated almost every kid, especially Vivi, a 6-year-old who had been to Sea World the day before and was envisioning a career for herself as a "Sea World helper."

"I like killer whales," she said. "If I first meet one and it opens its mouth at me, I don't get scared at first," she said, adding for contrast, "I don't like bats."

She said she would even gladly pick up a fish and stick it in the whale's mouth and even pet its tongue as the boy did in the movie. But the thought made her close her eyes so tight that her lashes stuck out like little paintbrushes.

But the part of the movie she liked the best, was, naturally, the end.

"It made me kind of happy," she said. "But it made my friend Rachael sad. She cried."

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