There’s no doubt that you heard the buzz and chatter this weekend about a big, important pop culture anniversary. It’s almost a certainty that if you were between the ages of 5 and 18 on July 19th, 1995, there was one movie that left an indelible mark on your psyche. It might’ve taught you some new lingo; or maybe it helped you realize that you shouldn’t judge other people by the way they look or talk; if you’re from middle America, it showed you the wonders of a West Coast lifestyle that you’d never seen before. I’m speaking, of course, about Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home.
You remember where you were when this movie came out. “Is that that whale movie, with the kid?,” you asked. It is, and it’s influenced every single thing that’s come after it. Not only that, but it’s shaped the way that an entire generation thinks about the world and their childhood. The lessons we’ve learned from Free Willy 2 are legion.
The plot of this masterpiece involve the hero of the first movie, Jesse (Jason James Richter). Jesse lives in the Pacific Northwest with his foster parents, Glen (Michael Madsen) and Annie (Jayne Atkinson). This seemingly tranquil family life is interrupted when he finds out that a) his birth mother is dead and b) he has a younger brother, Elvis (Francis Capra), who’s coming to stay with them. Sibling rivalry has never been more quickly fostered. Once they’re on vacation, it becomes even more awkward as Elvis tries to keep up with Jesse as he builds a budding romance with his buddy Randolph’s (August Schellenberg) goddaughter, Nadine (Mary Kate Schellhardt).
Oh, right, the whales. Willy is there. Willy’s brother Little Spot and sister Luna are there too. The whole orca family is present and they seem happy. Right up until an oil tanker goes aground, spilling it’s payload in an orgasmic explosion all over the alpine paradise they’re living in. Industry has exploded all over the place and worse, the CEO of the oil company wants to sell the whales to SeaWorld. They don’t call it SeaWorld, but you and I can connect the dots.
Needless to say, Jesse and his family and friends save the whales, save the day, and save humanity as they help nature once again triumph over industry. It’s a heartwarming tale that teaches you things. It’s school for a Saturday. I can name at least 5 lessons it taught me that I remember to this day, like:
- Always shake the hand of any girl that you meet. That’s A+ flirting.
- Whales f***ing love harmonicas yo. They’ll be putty in your Piano Man hands.
- SeaWorld, Big Oil, Evil Yuppie CEOs… they’re all part of a giant conspiracy. Skull & Bones sh*t.
- You can become bosom friends with any animal, anywhere. They won’t eat you if you’re cool as hell.
- Denim swimsuits were, and always will be, the bomb.
And those are only five!?! There are myriad lessons about Foster Families, about how Michael Madsen is probably gonna end up being a real badass foster dad who teaches you how to shoot people with saline buckshot, about how Native American holistic medicine is way better than our white, anglo-saxon bullcrap. It’s a picture just rife with learning.
When you watch something as affecting, as moving as Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home, it’s hard to take our entertainment today seriously. A movie with a message–oil bad, orca good–is something we don’t see a lot of today. Studios and directors lack the cajones to impart serious wisdom on the modern viewer. Is it, just maybe, because we lack the sophistication to process such a message? Are we too desensitized by Hell’s Kitchen and the Paddington movie that we don’t even recognize right from wrong anymore?
Maybe. Those seem like questions that are too deep for just one humble blogger to answer. So maybe you should revisit this endlessly discussed classic yourself. Maybe you too will see the deeper lessons that were meant to be imparted on us back then. Maybe now, as a species we’re mature enough to truly appreciate the genius of The Adventure Home.
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