The family that tends killer whales together stays together. That's the message of "Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home." When you're in need of some familial togetherness, sometimes only an orca will do.
The first "Free Willy," released in the summer of '93, was an ecology-era family film about a delinquent boy who bonds with an orca at the local sea park and, in so doing, bonds with his foster parents and a Native American teller of tales and a feminist seal handler. He ends up bonding with just about everything except the starfish.
In the sequel, young Jesse (Jason James Richter) is happily ensconced with his adoptive parents (Michael Madsen and Jayne Atkinson) when the arrival of his half-brother Elvis (Francis Capra) upsets the balance. Elvis and Jesse have never met. Their mother, a drug addict, has died, and now the tyke, who wears a Knicks cap backward and never tells the truth when a creative lie will do, is taken into the new family on a trial basis. In other words, we wait until a new round of bonding takes place.
And of course Willy, freed up from the first film, is there to help. Jesse re-encounters him when, camping with his family in Washington, he accidentally drops his harmonica in a cove and Willy pops up, jaws open, with the harmonica resting comfortably in his glottal area. Later, to impress the goddaughter (Mary Kate Schellhardt) of his Native American friend and protector (August Schellenberg), Jesse rides Willy in the surf.
Boy and girl bond--innocently, with a single kiss--by swimming around with Willy underwater. (Laszlo Kovacs' underwater photography has its allures.) Meantime, Elvis is trying to get his brother to like him, but he fibs so frequently that, when he passes along an overheard plot by oil-rig meanies and carny promoters to filch Willy, nobody believes him. He's the Boy Who Cried Whale.
The OK-ness of the first "Willy" movie is repeated in the sequel, directed by Dwight Little and scripted by Karen Janszen and Corey Blechman and John Mattson. It's tolerable, and small children will probably have a rush of excitement whenever Willy bounces and flops and whistles through the foam.
Jesse and Elvis' search for family is mimicked by Willy and his sister Luna's attempt to reach their mother after a damaged oil tanker fouls the whale lanes. It's not exactly the most inspired example of plot cross-cutting--there's something absurd, maybe even for children, in all this whales-as-helpmates stuff--but it works on the kind of crude, basic level that children's fairy tales often inhabit.
And, as in the last film, there's even an 800 number to call during the end credits for Save the Whale info.
We also learn that "no whales were harassed or mistreated" during filming. That's good to know, too.
* MPAA rating: PG for mild language and mild peril. Times guidelines: It includes whales in trouble during a firestorm.
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'Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home'
Jason James Richter: Jesse
August Schellenberg: Randolph
Michael Madsen: Glen Greenwood
Jayne Atkinson: Annie Greenwood
A Warner Bros. release in association with Le Studio Canal Plus, Regency Enterprises and Alcor Films of a Shuler/Donner production. Director Dwight Little. Producers Lauren Shuler-Donner and Jennie Lew Tugend. Executive producers Richard Donner, Arnon Milchan, Jim Van Wyck. Screenplay by Karen Janszen and Corey Blechman and John Mattson. Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs. Editor Robert Brown. Costumes Erica Edell Phillips. Music Basil Poledouris. Production design Paul Sylbert. Set decorator Casey Hallenbeck. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.