One of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2003 comes to video, allowing even wider audiences to enjoy the film that is Whale Rider. While it is one of the better films of the year, the hype does not do it justice - it has nothing that really makes it stand out, and nothing that confirms it as one of the key players come awards season.
Whale Rider is about the Maori people in New Zealand who are looking to fulfill the role of chief by selecting from one of the young boys in the area. However, the one who really wants to hold the title is the chief's only surviving child, but is also a young girl by the name of Pai. Looked down upon with extreme disapproval from her grandpa, she goes against the odds to win the title. The title of the film comes from the story that the original chief rode a whale back to safety after his canoe capsized; obviously, to truly win over her grandpa, Pai will end up riding a whale.
The story of Whale Rider is a simple one and what ultimately did not blow me away. While the story is played out well and entertaining to watch, it doesn't seem all that different from other films of a similar nature; the young child has to win the approval of an elder by doing something. Hey, in a way it is almost like Free Willy. When all is said and done, I mean no insult to the story; Whale Rider is effective from beginning to end, but there is just nothing new here to warrant "Best Movie of the Year" talk. "One of the better movies," but not "Best Movie."
Aside from its similarity to a few other movies, it is interesting to see the Maori culture, as most people have probably never heard of these people. Furthermore, the movie is generally a family-safe film that isn't necessarily made for families; it has plenty of emotional depth, good characters and good acting. Young Keisha Castle-Hughes (who will have a role in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode III) does a good job in her debut role.
Whale Rider is a fun and lighthearted film that also has a lot of depth and good visuals, but it isn't the tour de force that some critics are touting.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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