I don’t know if this is just a case of my cynicism flairing up, but have you noticed family films just aren’t what they used to be? Seriously, back in the Golden Age of Cinema (the 80s-90s), it seemed Hollywood was releasing classics by the handful. You had your Gremlins; E.T.; the Indiana Jones trilogy; etc. Forget about one memorable kids movie a year, they were dropping The Goonies as an afterthought at the time.
I realize an argument can be made for Pixar’s products, so for the sake of my shaky argument let’s not include animated fare in this discussion. When it comes to the live action stuff, you are pretty much left with Disney’s feel-good sports flicks, with all of the dancing-in-the-locker-room scenes they call for, or direct-to-DVD fluff featuring talking puppies saving Hanukkah.
This brings us to Universal’s latest, Big Miracle. Big Miracle takes us to the outreaches of the United States, to the tiny town of Barrow, Alaska in October of 1988. There we meet Adam Carlson (The Office’s John Krasinksi), a news reporter toiling on the local beat, waiting for a big story to come that will offer him a ride to a bigger market. That story comes in the form of Fred, Wilma, and Bam-Bam, three gray whales that have found themselves stuck by the quickly forming ice of the Arctic Circle.
The segment that Adam produces manages to find itself onto the NBC Nightly News as filler, and the whales’ plight quickly becomes a cause célèbre among the nation’s schoolchildren and housewives. It also results in gaining the attention of Adam’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Drew Barrymore), a volunteer with Greenpeace, who quickly finds herself in the middle of the action, butting heads with oil tycoons (Ted Danson), the Alaskan Governor (Stephen Root, in a too small role), and the White House.
This is a fine film with several flaws. Director Ken Kwapis, a seasoned veteran who made his film debut with 1984’s Summer Switch, takes time to showcase the lives of the local natives, and the performances given by the local tribes people are spot-on, but these best efforts are derailed by a weak script handed in by the screenwriting duo of Jack Amiel and Michael Begler (The Prince and Me). Barrymore’s character is written to be an expert on the local wildlife, but she apparently is taken by surprise when the news is broken that the whales may soon be harvested by the tribesmen instead of watching them slowly die.
I can understand that the concept of basing a film around animals in peril isn’t exactly a novel concept. Fortunately, everyone involved in Big Miracle worked in perfect harmony to drag the material above the average Free Willy wannabe. This one definitely deserves to be seen on the big screen.