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.
Free Willy 2 Grade: B-
Cast: Jason James Richter, Michael Madsen, Francis Capra
Rating: PG; profanity, violence