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A boy and his whale spin an appealing tale

Published Oct. 4, 2005

Like most fish tales, the story of Willy the whale gets bigger and better with each retelling.

Okay, he's a mammal, but you get the idea.

Now that all the introductions and Willy-as-Father Flanagan foolishness from the original movie are out of the way, Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home turns out to be a moderately exciting family-friendly film.

This time, Willy returns with his entire clan just in time to be trapped off the Seattle coast by a dangerous oil spill. The crisis comes as an afterthought and seems to exist only to set up another breathtaking rescue, but it's a serviceable means to deliver pro-environment messages and let the shiny new animatronic Willy give us cute nods and sympathetic looks in close-ups.

Better yet, the landlubbers have more to do this time around. Jesse (Jason James Richter) has grown into a more credible teenager, dealing with a crush and a half-brother he never knew before. Francis Capra, so appealing in A Bronx Tale, adds a brash spunk to this film that the sappy first stanza didn't have.

Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) still looks more comfortable as a crook than a stepdad, but Jesse's relationships with these two lend a comically touching layer to what could have been just another money-grubbing rehash of an inexplicable success. Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home makes sitting through the first film worthwhile.

MOVIE REVIEW

Free Willy 2 Grade: B-

Cast: Jason James Richter, Michael Madsen, Francis Capra

Rating: PG; profanity, violence