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“Big Miracle” is a sweet movie that chronicles the real-life “save the whales” story that captivated the world in the late 80s. A family of whales (mom, pop, and baby) get trapped in the ice, and will die unless they’re able to swim out to sea. Problem is, the ice is solid between here and there, and it will take a herculean effort to break a path for them. The most heartbreaking aspect of this predicament is that the animals are very aware that they are in danger, prescient enough to take turns blowing on the surrounding ice in order to keep the hole open. Anyone with the slightest affinity for animals will be moved, and were moved when this story dominated TV news some 20 years ago.

The film stars two of the most likeable actors on earth: John Krasinski and Drew Barrymore. Krasinski plays the local journalist who breaks the story. The role essentially requires him to be gosh-darn charming and that he is. Barrymore fares less well, playing a Greenpeace activist who is dedicated and single-minded enough to not really care whether anyone likes her. Unfortunately, Barrymore feels to be trying a bit too hard here. The line between an overly strident character and an overly strident performance is a tough one to walk.

Still, the pairing of Krasinski and Barrymore hits the right tone for a film that’s got a big heart and is intended for a family audience.

Part of what made this story so fascinating was the disparate people who came together to free the whales: politicians (conservatives, no less!), Greenpeace, big oil, the National Guard, indigenous tribes. It took a village, so to speak, to do the near-impossible. The lesson being that people of different stripes CAN work together when they put their minds to it, and miracles can happen when they do. The script is smart enough to acknowledge that some of these parties had ulterior motives for their involvement (namely good p.r.), but suggests that they came around and wound up emotionally involved in the struggle.

Some fun is had with characters like J.W. McGraw (played by Ted Danson), a big oil tycoon who at first seems to exist in the story to be the brunt of stereotyping humor. But when he goes to meet the whales and gets a big spray in the face, he laughs good-naturedly and develops an immediate fondness for the enormous creatures. The joke’s not “on him” if he laughs, too. And this kind of humanistic approach to the characters is what gives the film it’s “message”. For example, The “Greenpeace lady” and the local whale hunters must surely be at odds with one another, but come to a respect and understanding that allows them to work together.

This is the “lesson” of the film, and yes, it’s that kind of movie.

As far as lessons go, I’ll confess to being down with this one. Compromise and understanding is a lost art in our current culture, and anything that encourages children and adults alike to ponder the value of these things is okay by me.

There’s really only one problem with “Big Miracle” and it’s big all right.

The effects are terrible. I mean… really, really bad.

Local community theater could create a more convincing frozen tundra. In 50 below zero temps, nary a single actor has a red, runny nose, or visible breath. The whales look plastic. The painted sky in the background of some scenes is so obvious that one literally senses the actors are standing around in a cozy studio somewhere.

It’s a great story, truly. If you have kids, take’em.
If you don’t, perhaps you’ll enjoy the book more: “Freeing the Whales” by Thomas Rose.

3.5 of 5 stars

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  1. Mike H

    Another solidly written review. The presence of Ted Danson raises the chance of me seeing this film to 39.88%. I am intrigued by the bad sets and plastic dolphin you reference.

  2. Donna White

    Mike, I love how exact your percentages are! Decimals and all.
    Danson is good here. I’m not a fan but he really made the most of this role.