Making the Grades
Willy's friend Jessie (Jason James Richter) is two years older and wise enough to get himself a position as a whale research assistant. Orcas are dropping in number and Jessie's usual buddy Randolph (August Schellenberg) along with another scientist, Drew (Annie Corley), are setting out in a high-tech boat hoping to find out why. For the audience, the answer is already obvious after having met John Wesley (Patrick Kilpatrick), an illegal whaler posing under the guise of a salmon fisherman.
John is after more than whales though. He badly wants to pass his abilities down to his young son Max (Vincent Berry), so he invites him aboard. Max senses that what his father is doing isn't right, and is forced to choose between supporting a father he dearly loves or what his conscience is telling him to do.
This film hits many highs not often found in movies. First, Max actually comes from a solid two parent family. His mother supports his father, even though she is uneasy with the situation. Second, we have a "bad guy" -- Max's father -- who isn't all bad. Instead, like reality, he falls in the vast middle. He is a good father, and whaling is a family tradition that dates back to his grandfather. It is wonderful to see this type of character in a family movie, rather than the usual "black and white" good and bad people.
You can sympathize with both parties in this confrontation. Of course, the environmental ethics win (and so they should), but you at least have a sense of the impact on the dinner tables of the displaced workers. Finally, help your children note that breaking the law isn't reserved for just the whalers. Randolph is convinced that stealing a boat is the only way he will save the whales.
This may be the best Willy yet. With the past two being released in precise 24 month intervals, I hope November of 1999 holds another whale of a tale like this one.