Film / Free Willy

Homer: Jump, Free Willy! Jump! Jump with all your might!
Woman on TV: Oh, no! Willy didn't make it! And he crushed our boy!
Man on TV: Eugh. What a mess.
Homer: Ohhhh. I don't like this new director's cut.

Free Willy is a 1993 family drama, directed by Simon Wincer, about a boy and his orca whale.

Jesse (Jason James Richter) is a young boy caught vandalizing a marine theme park. His social worker manages to find a way that he can escape punishment, by helping out at the underwater attraction. Over time he befriends Willy, an orca whale kept in the park after being captured and taken away from his family.

Dial (Michael Ironside), the owner of the park, sees the bond between Jesse and Willy and plans on making a show of those two together. It turns out that Dial is greedy and has evil ulterior motives for the orca. Jesse and his friends are determined to find some way to save Willy from his impending death (you can kinda guess how from the title).

At the time, the movie was subject to frequent parody (especially its climax). A movement to "Free Keiko", the animal actor of the movie also was brought about by it. While he did resume contact with humans and eventually die of pneumonia, he lived a much better life in the ocean and had he continued living in captivity he would definitely have died much sooner of a papilloma virus which he quickly recovered from upon release.

Even so, the film managed to spawn three sequels: Free Willy 2 The Adventure Home (1995), Free Willy 3: The Rescue (1997) and most recently, a non-canon reboot Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove (2010) with Bindi Irwin in the leading role. There was also, believe it or not, an animated adaptation of the series produced by Nelvana that ran on ABC in the 1995-96 season, and a really weird one at that.

Tropes used by the film:

  • A Boy and His X: A Boy and His Whale
  • Adults Are Useless: Just where were the adults supervising those noisy children in the underwater observation area, when they were screaming and banging on the glass, causing Willy to freak out?
    • On the other hand, when Jesse sees that Willy's tank has been sabotaged, he immediately runs to Randolph for help, knowing he can't deal with this alone.
      • Trainer Rae acquits herself well during the climax, too.
    • Jesse initially and understandably thinks his foster parents and caseworker are this, but they're actually quite attentive.
  • Animated Adaptation: As stated before, this one was very strange even by the standards of 90's animated adaptations. Let's see, Jesse turns out to be a "Truth-Talker", there's a Lost World-style island where (supposedly) recently extinct Arctic animals (ie. Wooly Mammoths) thrive in secret, and, well... there's an antagonistic character called "The Machine". He is a cyborg who lives in a big techno-submarine underwater and wants to wreck the environment, but has a huge grudge against Willy; in his Corrupt Corporate Executive identity of Rockland Stone, Willy had interfered with his first submarine and hurled him into a propeller, forcing the cyborg implants onto him to keep him alive. No, this was real; you can see him at around the 18 second mark in the opening credits. Because why not replace the "let's keep Willy away from humans who want to mistreat him" conflict from the films with "there's an underwater G.I. Joe-reject villain who hates Willy and wants to destroy him, Jesse, the environment and the last enclave of Ice Age megafauna"?
  • Award-Bait Song: By Michael Jackson! Will You Be There was one of his most significant hits in the 1990's.
  • Captivity Harmonica: Jesse plays harmonica. Played with in that as a youth he's obviously not in jail (or if he would be it would be in juvie), but is placed with a foster family that he initially rejects and forced to work at a water park to make up for earlier vandalism. The sounds attract the killer whale he end up befriending.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Elvis was telling the truth about learning karate.
  • Clueless Aesop: The whole notion of freeing an animal who was forcefully taken out of his environment and separated from his family to live a life in captivity doesn't exactly work out too well when one remembers that this film could only have been made possible by using an animal who actually was forcefully taken out of his environment and forced to live a life in captivity.
    • Averted by the Free Keiko movement. Although Keiko continued to interact with humans post-release and eventually died of pneumonia, his life was improved and almost definitely lengthened by his release.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Dial in the first movie.
    • And The Machine's alter-ego, Rockland Stone.
  • Darker and Edgier: The third movie. Willy actually nearly kill one of the whalers that was hunting his mate.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Jesse, who suffers from abandonment issues is initially cold and indifferent towards both his foster parents and his employers at the water park. He eventually comes around though, especially with Willy's help and starts adapting more comfortably into his new life.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Free Willy. Um... (It is funny because Willy means 'penis.')
  • Humans Are Bastards: Subverted. The only human who's really a jerk is Dial. Oh, and the whalers who captured Willy in the first place and, to a lesser degree, the kids who beat on the walls of Willy's tank.
    • The Machine and the humans who do his dirty work for him in the cartoon.
    • On the other hand, in Real Life the movie title has often been used as an insult to fat kids everywhere.
  • I Know Kung-Fu: Elvis, that's one of the few truths he's told. He karate kicks one of the whalers in the butt.
  • I Was Named "My Name": Averted by The Book of the Film, in which it's revealed that Willy's "orca name" is Three Spots (referencing the dots under his chin), and the name change is listed among the many ways that life in an aquarium is highly confusing and frightening.
  • In-Name-Only: The Bindi Irwin movie.
  • Insurance Fraud: The reason Dial wants to kill Willy is for his million dollar insurance. In fact, Dial would have let Willy be rescued at the end if the insurance covered "theft".
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Jesse and Randolph.
  • Jump Scare: At the start of the film when Jesse vandalizes the observation area, a flash of lightning greets him face to face with Willy's jaws.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The crowd of kids in the observation area, who's relentless banging on the glass causes Willy a great deal of stress and ruins the show; it becomes so much that Willy ends up slamming the glass, scaring everybody out.
  • Magical Native American: Randolph, though this is largely averted in the first film. It's played painfully straight in the first sequel and Animated Adaptation.
  • Missing Mom: Jesse was abandoned by his mother when he was only six, which informs much of his character and why he bonds with a six-ton whale.
  • Obviously Evil: Willy's corrupt owner Dial, seeing the actor who plays him.
  • Papa Wolf:
    • Glen, at the end of the first movie.
    • Willy in the second and third movie as well.
  • Police Are Useless: Justified case of this, as Randolph refuses to bother as he knows they can do nothing to help Willy, and would probably only slow down their efforts to save him.
  • Spoiler Cover: That poster for the 1993 movie pretty much tells you how it's going to turn out.
  • Title Drop: "Let's free Willy!"
  • Too Dumb to Live: The kids in the observation deck who keep banging on the glass as Willy swims by, clearly making him distressed as he is unable to perform. The same goes for the adults, who barely make any effort to get the kids to calm down, which leads to Willy slamming the tank as he becomes agitated.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Not to mention the poster, the music video, the damn title...seriously, if you're watching this movie for the first time and have any doubt that Willy gets freed, you're as obtuse as hell.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Machine's alter ego before Jesse got proof linking him to weapon smuggling.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The kids who were with Jesse disappeared without the audience knowing what happened to them. Though they briefly met up with Jesse in the middle of the film.

Alternative Title(s): Free Willy 3 The Rescue, Free Willy Escape From Pirates Cove