Blu-ray Review: Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove (2010)

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AKA: Free Willy 4; Free Willy 4: Escape from Pirate's Cove

Undoubtedly, if given the opportunity, most children would love to be stranded at an amusement park by the sea for six summery weeks. However, since young Bindi Irwin's character Kirra is used to palling around the Australian outback with her dad as an honorary assistant vet until an accident lands him in a hospital bed, the temporary but forced relocation to stay in South Africa with a grandfather she doesn't know isn't quite the escape she had in mind.

Adding awkwardness to her father's injury, Kirra discovers that her poker playing, pigsty living grandpa (Beau Bridges) runs a pirate themed park that's not only falling apart but also shares the same lazy lack of ethics policy enacted in Greg Mottola's Adventureland.

Although she's quick to make a friend in a young employee of the park roughly her age named Sifiso, Kirra discovers it's much harder to get to know her grandfather who once upon a time following his divorce put his finger on a map and purposely moved as far away from everyone as he could including Kirra's deceased mother so that he could swindle tourists by day.

And when a storm washes a young whale to their cove just off the park and away from his familial “pod,” Kirra finds another friend in the beautiful creature she quickly names Willy. Working with Sifiso to prevent local marine rescue from putting the whale down and thwarting her grandfather's competitor from purchaing it for a princely sum in order to build a South African form of Sea World, Kirra tries to teach Willy his missing sonar echolocation skills to find his pod.

Attracting more visitors to the park than ever before, Kirra and her grandfather grow closer first out of their mutual interest in Willy for very different reasons of finance (his) and friendship (hers) until they begin to learn more about one another.

Missing the magic of the original Free Willy film and in some sense, splicing together the Willy movie paradigm with an entirely different Hallmark Hall of Fame like plot about a young girl coming to love and soften up her tough yet sensitive grandfather, unfortunately while it's pleasant enough, there's nothing particularly memorable that will stand out in this installment.

Still, in spite of its autopilot screenplay and especially in the Blu-ray format, this Warner Brothers disc premiere plays with light and shadow in the water to beautifully translucent effect, thereby manufacturing the magic through cinematography even though as a film, it never quite compels us as it should as either a Willy work or a generational bonding story.

And while the actors are likable including the adorable Crocodile Hunter daughter Bindi Irwin and you get the sense that Beau Bridges in particular had fun playing his own version of his brother's Lebowski “Dude” for the kiddies with a pirate makeover, perhaps part of the reason for its folly is because it took away the most effective element right at the start which was the relationship between Kirra and her devoted single father.

Had the movie dealt with all three of the characters or had Bridges been the one to arrive into their tight-knit lives years after the death of his daughter whose funeral he didn't attend – perhaps swapping out locations to work in the whale – maybe this Willy could have been not just more fascinating but offer both the audience and the actors something with far more layers to hold our interest.

Since unfortunately, as it stands (or swims) with us simply biding our time until Kirra can frolic in the sea with the whale, even audience members like this reviewer who would've loved to have hung out at a theme park as a child, would rather be an honorary vet's assistant any day of the week as well.

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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.