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The Whale - Movie Review - 2011

It Takes a Village To Save A Baby Whale


A baby orca, separated from his mom and pod, is discovered swimming solo off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Whales are social animals, and the lonely baby soon approaches boaters and fishermen, establishing close relationships with them. Locals name the baby killer whale Luna, and he becomes a regular member of the community.

Luna is still living in the wild, but he has established extraordinary unusual communications and interdependency with human beings.

Part of the Community

As Luna matures, he invents new ways to interact with humans. He picks up rubber hoses and directs water flow at people on boats or on the docks. The area has a lot of logging, and Luna begins to push logs on the water -- local loggers rename him Bruno. He really becomes part of the community.

Additionally, his unique behavior garners a lot of media attention around the world, and Luna attracts hoards of tourists to visit the area. He welcomes them by approaching their small boats, bow surfing with larger boats and allowing people on the docks to pet him.

But, as he matures and gets much bigger, Luna accidentally damages some boats while he's trying to play with the people on board. Boat owners complain about Luna's proximity and behavior. Additionally, authorities are concerned that his interactions with humans are unhealthy for Luna, who should be keeping company with creatures of his own species. Controversy ensues about whether to allow Luna to continue to interact with people, or to prevent people from playing with and petting him. There is also controversy about whether to relocate Luna and reunite him with his pod, and whether his pod would accept him as family after so long an absence.

No spoilers here, but Luna is a most captivating central character, and you do become quite emotionally involved with him and his plight.

Where Does Luna Belong?

The issue of anthropomorphism often arises in documentary film, when human motivations are attributed to wild animals. In The Whale, Luna clearly seeks human interaction and it seems natural to assume that he, motivated by loneliness, is forming friendships to develop a substitute family. Has persistence, emotions and needs certainly resonate with the human beings who meet him, and who see him in the film.

Compare The Documentary With The Narrative Feature

It's interesting that The Whale has its theatrical release at the same time as the narrative feature, A Dolphin Tale, makes its way into theaters. A Dolphin Tale is the true story of Winter, a young dolphin who was found beached in Florida, brought to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where she was fitted with a prosthetic tail -- a first. In A Dolphin Tale, Winter, who plays herself in the film, is surrounded by human stories -- a young boy who emerges from his shyness as he works with the dolphin, a young girl who becomes his best friend, and the fiscal concerns of those who run the aquarium, among other plot lines. The film also has special effects intended to entertain -- there's a toy helicopter that 'escapes' control and buzzes close to Winter, and at one point, Winter jumps out of the water and, with effects, seems headed for your lap.

By comparison, the story telling and cinematography of The Whale is quite straight forward. It's also much more effective. In The Whale, nothing gets in the way of your understanding of the plight of this special creature. In Dolphin Tale, there's just too much hokey stuff in the way.

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Film Details:

  • Title: The Whale - 2011
  • Director: Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit
  • Theatrical Release Date: September 9, 2011
  • Running Time: 89 mins.
  • MPAA Rating: PG, for some violent images involving wildlife
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Locations: Vancouver Island, British Columbia
  • Language: English
  • Production Country: Canada
  • Production Company: Kinosmith
  • Distribution Company: Paladin
  • Official Site
  • Trailer

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