Free Willy is the adorable story of a boy and his killer whale (yes, really), this made a star out of an orca whale named Keiko.
In fact, a movie could be made out of his life – after starring in the film, Keiko was later found living in horrible conditions at a Mexican aquarium and money was raised to save him. In 1998, he was airlifted to Iceland (where he was born) and trained to survive in the wild. But Keiko missed human contact and in 2002 appeared off the coast of Norway. (He sadly died of pneumonia the following year.)
In Free Willy, he acts the humans off the screen as the whale befriended by a troubled young boy. Willy lives at the local aquatic park and is neglected, so it is up to young Jesse (Richter) to save the whale and set him free. It’s very cute stuff, which grown-ups will find predictable but kids will love, with nice performances from Lori Petty as Willy’s trainer and Michael Madsen as Jesse’s foster dad (plus Michael Ironside, always reliable as the bad guy).
The film was followed by two amiable sequels, 1995’s Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home and 1997’s Free Willy 3: The Rescue.
Is Free Willy suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...