Free Willy (1993)

PG | 112 mins | Children's works, Adventure, Drama | 16 July 1993

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HISTORY

       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, screenwriter Keith A. Walker conceived the story idea while working with Donner on The Goonies (1985, see entry) in Astoria, OR. Citing the script’s “international appeal,” Regency Enterprises founder Arnon Milchan agreed to serve as executive producer through the company’s production and distribution deal with Warner Bros. Pictures.
       Actor Jason James Richter was cast as “Jesse” from among 4,000 young actors who auditioned in a nationwide casting call. To find a whale suitable to portray “Willy,” filmmakers searched throughout the U.S., Japan, France, Spain, and Argentina, before discovering Keiko, a twelve-year-old Orca that had been residing at Reino Aventura amusement park in Mexico City, Mexico, since 1985. According to People, Keiko was originally captured from his home off the coast of Iceland and sold to Marineland in Niagara Falls, NY, in 1982, before moving to Mexico. The Free Willy production team was able to film Keiko in the park while it underwent renovations throughout May and Jun 1992. A wooden backdrop placed around the circumference of the Reino Aventura aquatic arena made it appear as if the park was located in the Pacific Northwest.
       A 16 May 1993 LAT article claimed that director Simon Wincer was hired only five weeks before production began to replace an unnamed director who producers deemed “too inexperienced” for the estimated $20 million project. Although a 3 Mar 1992 HR production chart referred to the film by its working title, Willy, the 7 Jul 1992 HR, announced that Free Willy began principal photography 18 May 1992. Animal action ... More Less

       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, screenwriter Keith A. Walker conceived the story idea while working with Donner on The Goonies (1985, see entry) in Astoria, OR. Citing the script’s “international appeal,” Regency Enterprises founder Arnon Milchan agreed to serve as executive producer through the company’s production and distribution deal with Warner Bros. Pictures.
       Actor Jason James Richter was cast as “Jesse” from among 4,000 young actors who auditioned in a nationwide casting call. To find a whale suitable to portray “Willy,” filmmakers searched throughout the U.S., Japan, France, Spain, and Argentina, before discovering Keiko, a twelve-year-old Orca that had been residing at Reino Aventura amusement park in Mexico City, Mexico, since 1985. According to People, Keiko was originally captured from his home off the coast of Iceland and sold to Marineland in Niagara Falls, NY, in 1982, before moving to Mexico. The Free Willy production team was able to film Keiko in the park while it underwent renovations throughout May and Jun 1992. A wooden backdrop placed around the circumference of the Reino Aventura aquatic arena made it appear as if the park was located in the Pacific Northwest.
       A 16 May 1993 LAT article claimed that director Simon Wincer was hired only five weeks before production began to replace an unnamed director who producers deemed “too inexperienced” for the estimated $20 million project. Although a 3 Mar 1992 HR production chart referred to the film by its working title, Willy, the 7 Jul 1992 HR, announced that Free Willy began principal photography 18 May 1992. Animal action was monitored by American Humane Association employee Netta Bank. The 19 Jul 1993 issue of Time magazine reported that filmmakers frequently used a robotic whale “stunt double” covered in 3,000 pounds of urethane rubber, as well as a model of the top of the whale, which was made moveable by hydraulic propellers. Once filming concluded in Mexico City, production moved to Portland, OR, for an additional three weeks on locations at Pioneer Courthouse Square, the warehouse district, Skateboard Park, and Oaks Amusement Park. Filming also took place in Astoria’s Hammond Marina. Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen portrayed a fish vendor. A 3 Nov 1992 DV brief stated that Wincer completed the picture “on budget.” The 13 Jul 1993 LAT listed a final production cost of $13 million.
       According to a 10 Jun 1993 DV news item, Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There” was the first song released under the artist’s newly-formed record label, MJJ/Epic, and was accompanied by a music video featuring scenes from the film. The 29 Jun 1993 DV reported that Warner Bros. also negotiated more than twenty promotional tie-ins, including a Willy plush toy by Dakin Inc.
       A 19 Jul 1993 HR article stated that because the film did not have a marketable star, Warner Bros. decided to generate word-of-mouth by holding a “sneak” screening on 5 Jul 1993. In response to overwhelmingly positive feedback, the studio held additional previews on 10 and 11 Jul 1993. Free Willy opened 16 Jul 1993 in 1,476 theaters, before expanding to an additional 400 theaters on 23 Jul 1993.
       Several months later, the 13 Dec 1993 HR reported that Donner, Shuler-Donner, and Jason James Richter participated in a demonstration in San Diego, CA, protesting the capture of three white-sided dolphins for an aquarium in Chicago, IL. The film’s popularity also generated publicity for a campaign to release Keiko from his restrictive, undersized tank at “El Nuevo” Reino Aventura and eventually return him to the wild. The 9 Sep 1994 Long Beach Press-Telegram reported that El Nuevo Reino Aventura agreed to move Keiko to a larger facility if artist Robert Wyland painted a mural of the whale, while People claimed that the park was unable to sell Keiko for their $1 million asking price due to his declining health and a contagious skin condition. On 22 Nov 1994, WSJ stated that Warner Bros. planned to donate $2 million to support the “Free Willy” Keiko Foundation’s efforts to have Keiko treated at a rehabilitation facility in Oregon. The following summer, the Humane Society of the U.S. announced that Keiko would be transported via cargo jet to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Nov 1995. On 28 Oct 1996, HR reviewed a Discovery Channel television special scheduled to air that day, which documented how the film’s release led to Keiko’s relocation. In 1999, the 17 Jan NYT announced that Keiko had been returned to his home in the Icelandic waters off the Westman Islands, where he lived in a “natural sea pen...that [allowed] the whale to interact with other marine life.”
       Meanwhile, Donner, Shuler-Donner, Milchan, and producer Jennie Lew Tugend reunited with Warner Bros. for two sequels: Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (1995, see entry) and Free Willy 3: The Rescue (1997, see entry). Michael Madsen and Jayne Atkinson returned for Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home, while Jason James Richter and August Schellenberg reprised their roles in both films. Due to Keiko’s rehabilitation, Willy was re-created through the use of robotic doubles.
      End credits state: “No whales were harassed or mistreated during the making of this film and all scenes involving a live animal were supervised by the American Humane Association,” and include, “Special thanks to: Nuevo Reino Aventura and staff and the people of Mexico City; The people and cities of Portland, Astoria and Warrenton, Oregon and Anacortes, Washington; Oregon State and Washington State Film Offices.” A 9 Aug 1993 article in People magazine noted that end credits of the theatrical release concluded with the toll-free telephone number of the Earth Island Institute, which executive producer Richard Donner and producer Lauren Shuler-Donner hoped would help raise awareness about the hunting of sea mammals.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
3 Nov 1992.
---
Daily Variety
10 Jun 1993.
---
Daily Variety
29 Jun 1993.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 1992.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 1992.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jul 1993
p. 6, 24.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jul 1993.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 1993.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 1996.
---
Humane Society of the U.S. News
Summer 1995
p. 4.
Long Beach Press-Telegram
9 Sep 1994.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 May 1993
pp. 23-24.
Los Angeles Times
13 Jul 1993.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Jul 1993
Section F, p. 1, 16.
New York Times
16 Jul 1993
Section C, p. 12.
New York Times
17 Jan 1999.
---
People
9 Aug 1993
pp. 40-41.
Time
19 Jul 1993
p. 59.
Variety
19 Jul 1993
p. 71.
WSJ
22 Nov 1994.
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CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. Presents
In Association with Le Studio Canal+, Regency Enterprises and Alcor Films
A Film by Simon Wincer
A Donner/Shuler-Donner Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
Prod mgr, Mexico unit
1st asst dir, Mexico unit
2d asst dir, Mexico unit
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
"B" cam op
1st asst cam
1st asst "B" cam
2d asst cam
2d asst "B" cam
Steadicam op
Steadicam op
Chief lighting tech
Asst chief lighting tech
Asst chief lighting tech
Rigging gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Dolly grip
Dolly grip
Underwater photog
Underwater photog
Wildlife cine
1st asst cam, Wildlife unit
2d asst cam, Wildlife unit
Still photog
Cam op, Mexico unit
Cam op, Mexico unit
Best boy, Mexico unit
Key grip, Mexico unit
Dolly grip, Mexico unit
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Illustrator
Graphic des
Art dir, Mexico unit
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Lead person
Set des
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Const foreman
Const foreman
Standby painter
Const coord, Mexico unit
Const foreman, Mexico unit
Asst prop master, Mexico unit
COSTUMES
Cost des
Women's costumer
Men's costumer
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus consultant
Mus ed
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Cable person
Sd des & supv sd ed
Supv ADR ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
Foley artist
Foley artist
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff foreman
Spec eff foreman
Spec eff
Whale eff supv
Animatronic whales created by
Whale des
Whale des
Whale des
Whale des
Whale des
Whale des
Whale des
Whale des
Whale des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Elec/Hydraulic des
Elec/Hydraulic des
Elec/Hydraulic des
Elec/Hydraulic des
Visual compositing and digital eff by
Video Image
Video Image
Video Image
Video Image
Video Image crew
Video Image crew
Video Image crew
Video Image crew
Video Image crew
Video Image crew
Video Image crew
Video Image crew
Dir of photog, Miniature unit
1st asst cam, Miniature unit
Gaffer, Miniature unit
Dive master, Miniature unit
Opticals
Main and end titles des by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Naturalist, Wildlife unit
Whale behavior supv
Tech consultant
Tech consultant
Supv whale trainer
Whale trainer
Whale trainer
Asst to Jennie Lew Tugend
Asst to Lauren Shuler-Donner
Asst to Lauren Shuler-Donner
Asst to Simon Wincer
Asst to Richard Donner
Asst to Richard Donner
Asst to Aaron Milcham
Asst to Arnon Milcham
Prod assoc
Prod secy
Asst prod secy
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Unit pub
Casting assoc
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Caterer
Craft service
Craft service
Studio teacher
First aid
Oregon extras casting
Oregon extras casting
Prod secy, Mexico unit
Asst prod accountant, Mexico unit
Transportation capt, Mexico unit
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Will You Be There (Theme From 'Free Willy')," written and produced by Michael Jackson, co-produced by Bruce Swedien, performed by Michael Jackson, courtesy of Epic Records
"Keep On Smilin'," written by Narada Michael Walden, Sylvester Jackson and Sally Jo Dakota, performed by NKOTB, courtesy of Columbia Records
"Didn't Mean To Hurt You," written by Taj Jackson, Taryll Jcakson and T. J. Jackson, performed by 3T, courtesy of Epic Records
+
SONGS
"Will You Be There (Theme From 'Free Willy')," written and produced by Michael Jackson, co-produced by Bruce Swedien, performed by Michael Jackson, courtesy of Epic Records
"Keep On Smilin'," written by Narada Michael Walden, Sylvester Jackson and Sally Jo Dakota, performed by NKOTB, courtesy of Columbia Records
"Didn't Mean To Hurt You," written by Taj Jackson, Taryll Jcakson and T. J. Jackson, performed by 3T, courtesy of Epic Records
"How Can You Leave Me Now," written by Paul Frazier, performed by Funky Poets, courtesy of Epic Records
"Right Here (Human Nature Remix)," written by Brian Morgan, John Bettis and Steve Porcaro, performed by SWV, courtesy of the RCA Records Label of BMG Music.
+
PERFORMERS
+
DETAILS
Series:
Alternate Title:
Willy
Release Date:
16 July 1993
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 16 July 1993
Production Date:
began 18 May 1992
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers Productions, Ltd., Studio Canal+ & Regency Enterprises, VOF
Copyright Date:
2 September 1993
Copyright Number:
PA625519
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
112
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
32315
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Off the Pacific Northwest coast, whalers pursue a pod of Orcas and illegally capture one with plans to sell it to an amusement park. In Portland, Oregon, homeless twelve-year-old Jesse scrounges for food with his friends. While evading police, Jesse seeks refuge in Northwest Adventure Park, the theme park containing the detained whale. When Jesse is taken into custody for vandalizing the facility with spray paint, his social worker, Dwight, suggests he avoid juvenile prison by serving a probationary sentence repairing the damage. Because his mother abandoned him six years earlier, Jesse is sent to live with new foster parents, Glen and Annie Greenwood, whom he treats with rudeness and hostility. On his way to work as an automobile mechanic, Glen drops Jesse for his first day at the park. There, the boy is fascinated by the Orca, now known as “Willy” to his Haida Native-American keeper, Randolph Johnson, and trainer, Rae Lindley. Although both Randolph and Rae warn that Willy is aggressive, the animal responds to Jesse’s harmonica playing. On one of the final evenings of his probation, Jesse trips on the ledge of Willy’s tank and falls unconscious in the water. Willy pushes him to the surface and Jesse revives. Randolph suggests he may have a spiritual connection with the whale, and hires the boy for a permanent job. When Rae struggles to train the obstinate animal to perform, stingy park owner, Mr. Dial, refuses to expand his facilities until Willy proves himself a valuable attraction. One day, Willy follows Jesse around the edges of the pool and begins to perform tricks. Rae, who plans to get her doctorate in marine biology, educates Jesse on the familial ... +


Off the Pacific Northwest coast, whalers pursue a pod of Orcas and illegally capture one with plans to sell it to an amusement park. In Portland, Oregon, homeless twelve-year-old Jesse scrounges for food with his friends. While evading police, Jesse seeks refuge in Northwest Adventure Park, the theme park containing the detained whale. When Jesse is taken into custody for vandalizing the facility with spray paint, his social worker, Dwight, suggests he avoid juvenile prison by serving a probationary sentence repairing the damage. Because his mother abandoned him six years earlier, Jesse is sent to live with new foster parents, Glen and Annie Greenwood, whom he treats with rudeness and hostility. On his way to work as an automobile mechanic, Glen drops Jesse for his first day at the park. There, the boy is fascinated by the Orca, now known as “Willy” to his Haida Native-American keeper, Randolph Johnson, and trainer, Rae Lindley. Although both Randolph and Rae warn that Willy is aggressive, the animal responds to Jesse’s harmonica playing. On one of the final evenings of his probation, Jesse trips on the ledge of Willy’s tank and falls unconscious in the water. Willy pushes him to the surface and Jesse revives. Randolph suggests he may have a spiritual connection with the whale, and hires the boy for a permanent job. When Rae struggles to train the obstinate animal to perform, stingy park owner, Mr. Dial, refuses to expand his facilities until Willy proves himself a valuable attraction. One day, Willy follows Jesse around the edges of the pool and begins to perform tricks. Rae, who plans to get her doctorate in marine biology, educates Jesse on the familial living habits of wild Orcas and shows him how to train Willy. Randolph gives Jesse a tribal whale carving based on an old Haida legend. As Jesse continues to enjoy his work at the park, his relationship with the Greenwoods improves, but he still believes his mother will return for him someday. When he overhears Glen tell Annie he is happy without a child, Jesse fears being abandoned again and throws a baseball through the glass of his bedroom window. At the park, Jesse demonstrates Willy’s abilities for Dial, who decides to have the boy host a regular routine called “The Willy Show.” However, the day of the first performance, Willy is disturbed by the screaming children pounding on his tank, and refuses to respond to commands. The crowd boos, sending Jesse running from the arena in shame as Willy collides with the glass of his underwater observation pool, causing a leak. Jesse declares he plans to find his mother, and later says goodbye to Willy as he leaves to join friends in Venice, California. Willy starts to cry, and Jesse realizes he is communicating with his family in the ocean just outside the park. Downstairs, some of Dial’s employees remove a loose bolt near the leak, causing the tank to drain hundreds of gallons of water. Randolph surmises that Dial is attempting to kill Willy to collect the $1 million insurance. With only minutes before the tank empties, Jesse convinces Randolph and Rae to help him release Willy back into the ocean. The boy coaxes Willy into a trailer, which cannot support the whale’s weight. They steal Glen’s automobile tow truck and drive Willy to the nearest marina, but are stopped by a fallen tree in their path. When a wheel of the trailer slips off the road, Jesse radios Glen and Annie for help. Using a chain and winch, they pull Willy free and take him through a car wash to keep him hydrated. The gate of the marina is guarded by Dial and his men, and Glen hits the gas pedal to break through the barrier and reverse into the water. The adults fight off Dial’s men as Jesse urges Willy to swim free, avoiding traps and jumping over a high stone wall. Once Willy safely re-enters the ocean, Jesse cheers and returns home with the Greenwoods. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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