Blu-ray: Good Family Pic
3 Stars out of 5
Sale Price 6.94
Buy Now
3rd Party 2.12
In Stock.
Release Date: March 23rd, 2010
Movie Release Year: 2009
Release Country: United States
COLLAPSE INFO -

Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove

Review Date March 22nd, 2010 by
Overview - Fans of the Free Willy series will cheer this exciting family film about a baby orca who needs a friend and a girl who finds the courage to help him. After young Kirra (Bindi Irwin) leaves her Australian home to summer with her grandfather (Beau Bridges) in South Africa, she soon discovers a baby orca stranded in the lagoon near her grandfather’s rundown seaside amusement park. She names the lonely whale Willy – and embarks on a quest to lead the little guy back to his anxious pod before her grandfather’s greedy rival turns Willy into a captive, moneymaking attraction at his slick theme park. A little girl, a little orca and big, big fun and adventure!
  • Editors Note

    Please welcome Michael Palmer to the reviewing side of High-Def Digest. Michael has been our man in the field for events in LA for the last year. Now he's covering movie reviews as well, where his experiences in the trenches of Hollywood should bring some interesting perspective to his coverage of various HD releases.

OVERALL
Good Family Pic
Leave A Comment
  • Editors Note

    Please welcome Michael Palmer to the reviewing side of High-Def Digest. Michael has been our man in the field for events in LA for the last year. Now he's covering movie reviews as well, where his experiences in the trenches of Hollywood should bring some interesting perspective to his coverage of various HD releases.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: Blu-ray
    DVD/Digital Copy Combo
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
    Length:101
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):1.78:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
    French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
    Subtitles/Captions: English SDH
    French
    Spanish
    Special Features: On the set of Free Willy: Greetings from South Africa
    Bindi Irwin and Willy invite all to "meet my wild costars"
    Bindi's first movie video diary
    Deleted scenes
    Outtakes
    Movie Studio: Warner Brothers
    Release Date: March 23rd, 2010

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

3.5 Stars out of 5

Never in my days did I consider revisiting the 'Free Willy' franchise, but the truth is, this family flick will be pretty darn fun for parents and kids alike.

The story is a simple one. After her father has an accident, Kirra (Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late Steve 'The Crocodile Hunter' Irwin, and star of her own animal show, 'Bindi the Jungle Girl') leaves Australia for a summer with her grandfather, Gus (Beau Bridges), in South Africa. Gus operates a rundown, seaside amusement park named Pirate's Cove. Home to an ornery donkey, unhappy customers, and one of the cutest sidekicks in cinema history, Inglebird the penguin. When a severe storm strands a baby orca in the Pirate's Cove lagoon, Kirra falls in love, names the orca Willy (as she must), and sets out on a quest to get Willy back to his pod before Gus' greedy rival turns Willy into a theme park attraction. Tuck in some environmental science and other heartwarming messages about protecting the weak and making the right decision, even if it's hard, and we have ourselves a nice little family film.

They say it's hard to make movies with child stars. And even harder to make movies with animal stars. Therefore, one can only imagine the kind of incohesive, low budget direct to home video drek that could have resulted in reviving the Free Willy series. Yet, the elements have been blended together quite well here. The young Irwin might not be the most sophisticated young actress, but she's quite charming and easily carries an entire movie squarely on her shoulders. Bridges turns in a fine performance as Grampa Gus, whose character is an interesting choice for a family film. He's somehow always loveable, despite some roguish moments where he wavers about Willy's fate – to do the right thing, or sell him to save his theme park. Hmmmm...

On the animal side of the coin, this is really where the South African locale shines. In addition to same great landscapes, kiddies will delight to see orcas, penguins, giraffes, and lion cubs. As for the title character, Willy is composed mainly of live action animatronics and CGI. The animatronics are, for the vast majority of shots, photo-realistic (if only 'Jaws' looked this good). The minimally-used CGI is clean, but not fully real. Quality-wise, it's on par with most Discovery Channel productions.

Technically, the movie seems like a much bigger budget production. For that we'll again thank South Africa, with its capable crews and enticing tax rebate programs. The musical score was surprisingly strong, save for some cheesy evil villain guitar moments, featuring a combination of African-themed choral movements and some nicely tuned emotional themes.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

This is a two-disc set, with the second disc being a DVD copy that also contains the film's digital download. The disc plays automatically with an ad for Blu-ray/Digital Copy, a trailer for 'Where the Wild Things Are' and then a simple menu.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray
    DVD/Digital Copy Combo
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:101
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.78:1
    Audio Formats:
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
    French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH
    French
    Spanish
    Special Features:
    On the set of Free Willy: Greetings from South Africa
    Bindi Irwin and Willy invite all to "meet my wild costars"
    Bindi's first movie video diary
    Deleted scenes
    Outtakes
    Movie Studio: Warner Brothers
    Release Date: March 23rd, 2010

Video Review

3 Stars out of 5

'Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove' arrives in a VC-1 1080p transfer (aspect ratio 1.78:1). Aside from some grainy stock footage that opens the movie and is cut into scenes featuring Willy's pod, the movie looks quite nice in HD. Colors are bright, featuring the warm earth tones of the South African location, as well as the cool blues of its coastline. Skin tones are accurate, and detail is abundant, but a few steps away from appearing in the 'near 3D' way some perfect transfers can attain.

The weakest section of the picture involves muddy interiors. Night scenes look fine and are well contrasted, but inside the villain's mansion, for example, the image appears flat, with the colors muted.

Bottom line, it may not be the best HD image on the market, but to show you just how nice a solid 1080p Blu-ray looks compared to just about anything on television. After watching 'Free Willy' for this review, I caught the most recent episode of 'Lost' (recorded in 720p, off DirecTV), and this was a much cleaner, crisper vibrant image…. And 'Lost' is pretty much the best looking show on TV.

Audio Review

3 Stars out of 5

The disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix isn't the ideal sonic maelstrom of demo material, but it holds up well enough. Dialogue and voices are always clear. The mix is front heavy, with surrounds mainly used for music, ambient coastal noise, and the rare rear panning. Directionally, the movie's best effects occur when CGI whales are darting across the screen. Bass is evenly balanced, and mainly used in the music, so not so surprisingly (and on the up side of things), you won't be rattling pictures off your neighbors' walls.

There is also a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this disc, along with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.

Special Features

2 Stars out of 5
  • Meet My Wild Co-Stars (HD, 3:10). Showing all the living animals used to make the film. Kids will love this, and wish the movie featured more of these animals.
  • Bindi's First Movie Video Diary (HD, 4:28) Lower res home video that follows Bindi around during film. Not much more than what's already been displayed in the previous two featurettes.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 2:08) One short scene and one expanded scene. One could understand why they were cut, as they aren't very funny, nor do they advance the plot.
  • Outtake (HD 1:30) With an intro from Bindi. An interesting look at some of the improvising she was asked to do. She clearly had a blast making the movie.

Final Thoughts

'Free Willy' isn't for everyone. But it's a surprisingly fun, well-made family flick. For young fans of the young Irwin, it'll be a must own. And in our HD landscape, it holds up quite well. Much better, in fact, than watching highly compressed satellite and cable television. My biggest complaint, other than an odd music video/painting montage, is that this movie needs more Inglebird the penguin. Funny and cute are an addictive combination, and frankly, I'm glad that (spoiler alert) he eventually reclaims his lagoon for swimming. With the Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack, 'Free Willy: Escape from Pirates Cove' is as easy to enjoy in the home theater as it is in the minivan.

Sale Price 6.94
Buy Now
3rd Party 2.12
In Stock.
See what people are saying about this story or others
See Comments in Forum
  • Editors Note

    Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray
    DVD/Digital Copy Combo
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:101
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.78:1
    Audio Formats:
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
    French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH
    French
    Spanish
    Special Features:
    On the set of Free Willy: Greetings from South Africa
    Bindi Irwin and Willy invite all to "meet my wild costars"
    Bindi's first movie video diary
    Deleted scenes
    Outtakes
    Movie Studio: Warner Brothers
    Release Date: March 23rd, 2010