Another "Free Willy" movie? Oh, brother. That was my initial reaction. When I discovered, however, that Bindi Irwin would be starring in it, I became intrigued. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, attended the same school as Terri Irwin, and my heart has been linked to their family since Steve Irwin's early success as "The Crocodile Hunter" and the later tragedy of his death. How could I not give this movie a chance?
The story is quick-moving and fun-spirited. Bindi is a young girl from Australia whose father gets hurt in an accident. She is forced to go spend six weeks in Capetown, South Africa, with her estranged grandfather, the father of her deceased mother. Beau Bridges plays his role well, giving it a few moments of goofiness and some heartfelt scenes. He and his granddaughter do not hit it off right away. In fact, he is a gambling, unmotivated fellow who runs a downtrodden theme park. A storm brings the theme park an unexpected surprise, though, in the form of a young Orca. "Willy" becomes the catalyst for a granddaughter/grandfather relationship, as well as the source of rivalry and conflict from a bigger, better theme park.
The movie has some funny moments and some incredible scenery from the Capetown area. Beau and Bindi give the film a lot of heart. There are one or two slapstick moments, but overall it remains focused on its young female star and her desire to care for animals even while winning over her crusty, but good-natured grandpa. The only real weakness is the use of simulated underwater Orca scenes. They might work well in an aquarium presentation, but they don't do well in a film. And they seemed unnecessary, considering the very real Orca used throughout the movie.
I was pleasantly surprised by "Free Will: Escape from Pirate's Cove." It has a message about preserving nature, without getting too preachy about it. It makes good use of adorable and likable Bindi, and it shows that Beau Bridges still has some life in his acting career. My daughters and I enjoyed this together.