Film: Free Willy

Free Willy is a 1993 family film about a boy and his orca whale. The story is about Jesse (Jason James Richter), a young boy, who is caught vandalizing a 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 the most recent Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove (2010). There was also, believe it or not, an animated adaptation of the series that ran on ABC, and a really weird one at that.

Tropes used by the film:

  • 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.
  • Animated Adaptation: And it 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 -err- there is an antagonistic character called The Machine. He is a cyborg who lives in a technological fortress underwater and wants to kill every living thing. 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 villain who hates everything and wants to destroy the last enclave of Ice Age megafauna"?
  • A Boy and His X: A Boy and His Whale
  • Artifact Title: There isn't a whole lot of literal freeing in the sequels. Unless the "free" there is supposed to be an adjective describing Willy, so it doesn't really make sense.
    • Actually, it all depends on how you look at the situations. In the first movie, Willy is a "show whale" and is physically set free to live in the wild. In the second movie, getting Willy and his family from the cove and the oil spill could be considered setting him free, in addition to the fact that the owner of the oil tanker intends to capture and sell Willy and his family.
  • Award Bait Song: By Michael Jackson! Will You Be There was one of his most significant hits in the 1990's.
  • Badass: Do you need to keep a truck from falling off a mountain? With a seven thousand pound whale in the back? Randolph's the man.
  • 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.
    • The president of the oil company in the sequel. He wants to capture the whales.
  • Crying Wolf: Elvis in the sequel. The foster parents didn't believe him about the crashed oil tanker.
  • Darker and Edgier: The second and third movie. The second having Jessie nearly drown or get incinerated by the tanker fire. While the third having Willy actually nearly kill one of the whalers that was hunting his mate.
  • 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 humans who do his dirty work for him.
    • On the other hand, in Real Life the movie title has often been used as an insult to fat kids everywhere.
  • 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
  • Karma Houdini: Not really. In Dial's case having Willy escaped in the open sea his plan to obtain the insurace money fails. It's also implied he faces charges later.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Parental Abandonment: Jesse's mom. At the beginning of the second film, it's revealed that she passed away. Elvis confessed to Jesse that giving him up was the hardest choice she made.
  • Playing Against Type: Michael Madsen as a very nice guy... for a change.
  • The Other Rainforest
  • Title Drop: "Let's free Willy!"
  • 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.