Free Willy I - Presentation and Treatment of a Wild Animal

Seminar Paper, 2002

15 Pages, Grade: 1,5 (A)



1. Introduction

2. Plan

3. Summary

4. Animals in „Free Willy I”
4.1. Willy the whale
4.2. The seals
4.3. A comparison

5. The whale Willy and the human beings - the different attitudes and relationships
5.1. Jesse and Willy - an unusual but real friendship
5.2. Randolph, Rae and Willy
5.3. Dial, Wade and the whale - use and abuse

6. Keiko’s (Willy’s) real life
6.1. Keiko’s life until 1993
6.2. Keiko’s life after the production of “Free Willy I”
6.3. Keiko’s today’s situation - the latest news (5th of April 2002)
6.4. My opinion

7. A comparison of the posters

8. Conclusive remarks

9. Literary sources,

1. Introduction

Traditionally, man’s best friend is supposed to be a domestic animal like a cat or a dog. People are convinced that these animals can understand their feelings and can support them whenever help is needed. But most of these people would deny that such a relationship is possible to an animal like a killer whale.

During the preparation of this seminar paper I have been asking some people what first comes to their minds when thinking of a whale. In general the answers can be summarised as follows: huge, dangerous, arouses fear, frightening and belong to a time that is long ago. But none of the people I have been speaking to so far could imagine that close contact to such a big mammal is possible. The film (and the book) Free Willy I ( in German: Free Willy: Ruf der Freiheit) describe(s) that the contrary can happen. In the story, the love and affection of a boy are won over by a killer whale, a fact of course, which does not happen too often but is worth being considered.

2. Plan

This paper is about the presentation of the whale Willy in “Free Willy I” and the different ways people treat him in the film and in real life.

First of all, I will give a summary of the film “Free Willy I”. Then I will try to work out the presentation of the animals, especially of the whale in the film. My following task will be the examination of the different relationships between the characters, that is to say the relationship between the whale Willy and the human characters.

Afterwards, I will take a closer look at the end of the film and will compare this happy ending to reality. This means that I will give some background information about the whale’s situation from the day he was caught until today.

My final task will be to compare the cinema poster to the one I created.

3. Summary

Abandoned by his mother when he was little, 12 - year - old Jesse has spent nearly all his life with his friends on the streets. Like them he escaped from the children’s home. The youngsters spend most of their time begging to be able to afford something to eat.

When Jesse is caught spray painting graffiti in the Aquatic Theatre where Willy the whale lives in bad conditions, his probation is to clean the mess he has made. Otherwise he would be sent to baby jail. During the time that he is cleaning the observation windows of Willy’s tank, Jesse makes friends with the huge killer whale. Very soon he gets closer to the whale than anybody else. Jesse is able to do tricks with Willy. The owner, seeing the opportunity to earn money with a “Free Willy Show” gives the boy the chance to perform a show with the whale that is supposed to attract many people. But as the show is a failure - due to some children who annoy the whale - the owner wants to get rid of the whale. He damages the whale’s holding tank, intending to kill the mammal and to get the insurance fee.

With the help of others, Jesse finally achieves to free the whale from the leaking tank and puts him back into the ocean. With this action he proves his friendship to the whale.

In the end Willy is back with his family and Jesse is with a nice foster family who cares for him.

4. Animals in “Free Willy I”

I would like to introduce the animals at that point as they are both, in the centre of the film as well as in the centre of my research paper. Of course, my main attention is directed to the whale Willy but I would also like to include a short passage about the seals as this already reveals the different stereotypes people have towards these animals.

4.1. Willy the whale

In the film Willy, the protagonist, is described as a mammal that “was too big to be caught”[1] (Rae). Nevertheless, the 7000 pound animal has to live in bad conditions now in a dolphin tank which is much too small for the whale. Moreover, Willy is kept alone although this species usually lives in a big group of whales and needs company. Many whales stay with their mothers during their whole life. Willy - and whales in general - are no natural performers but especially the owner of Willy expects miracles and has to perform in the amusement park. When Willy is finally shown to the spectators in this Aquatic Theatre, everybody is deeply impressed of his size. The spectators’ eyes follow the whale’s movements and everybody is quiet as they are all very fascinated by the wild animal’s presence and do not dare to break the powerful silence he creates.

4.2. The seals

The seals do only play a minor role in the film. They just appear one time when the trainer, Rae, is performing tricks with them in front of quite empty ranks of spectators in the Aquatic Theatre.

The animals are trained well and are able to sing, to wave, to shake hands and to catch the fish their trainer throws. The spectators seem to be amused from time to time but in general the seem to be bored. This can also be concluded from the little applause towards the end of the show.

4.3. A comparison

This does already show the different attitudes and stereotypes people have in general. The whale is depicted as a powerful animal that frightens the people and as something extraordinary one does not see very often. When Willy appears for the first time, everybody seems to be highly interested and pays close attention to him. The speciality of the whale in the Aquatic Theatre is underlined by the fact that he is already announced through the loudspeaker as a “prized orca whale ” which gives him the status of an attraction. Olivia and Belinda and the “Sea Lion Show” are demonstrated as if they were ridiculous. The two seals following Rae’s instructions have to kiss each other to pretend to be ashamed and the whole show is accompanied by a piece of music that resembles that on a fun fair.

It has to be said that the seals do not appear in the proceeding of the film anymore. This is probably due to the title of the film which focuses on the whale. However, this makes the seals seem to be unimportant animals no one likes to see. Later, the whale is given a show for himself, the "Free Willy Show”, whereas the seals don’t play any role at all in it. It seems as if they have been given away or sold just because they didn’t attract enough spectators that is to say because they did not achieve the goals the humans wanted to achieve with their help.

The whole film shows very clearly how little some people respect the animals in the story and - which can be concluded from their behaviour - animals in general.

5. The whale Willy and the human beings - the different attitudes and relationships

In the following paragraphs the attitudes of the people in the film towards the whale Willy will be in the centre of interest as they are extremely different.

5.1. Jesse and Willy - an unusual but real friendship

When Jesse has his first encounter with Willy he does not even know it is a whale (“What is that?”) He can just make out something huge and as he is terrified by the creature behind the observation windows, he does not dare a second glance. Only when he cleans the glass around Willy’s holding tank, he really sees the whale and is deeply impressed (“Wow!”) and looks at him, his eyes opened wide with surprise.

The boy and the whale really get to know each other when Jesse plays on his mouth organ. It seems that they get on well with each other from the first moment onwards. Very soon Willy plays with Jesse and makes tricks with him, something he has always denied his trainer. The two of them get closer and closer. Both give all they can to each other. Jesse spends all his pocket money on fishes for his friend. Moreover, he always stays with him as long as possible, that is to say as long as he is allowed to stay out. Sometimes he only gets home by night from the Aquatic Theatre.

The fact that they fit perfectly has the following reason. Jesse and Willy have very much in common: They are both separated from their loved ones, from their families. Willy is homesick. This becomes obvious when Willy sings at night and his family responds with the same sad sounds. Jesse can understand the feelings of the whale as he also misses his mother who left him alone. He still has hope to find her, but as time goes by and more and more people tell him not to have any illusions, he learns that she really doesn’t want him. And this makes him even more sad. As a consequence, both feel left alone, misunderstood, not treated nice and imprisoned. Willy only gets the bad fishes to eat, lives in a tank that is much too small for him and the people around him want him to do things that whales are naturally not able to do. Even if - seen from an objective point of view - Jesse’s situation seems much better, he does not feel comfortable himself. He is used to do whatever he feels like and now he has to obey the rules of his foster parents.


[1] The quotations refer to the English subtitles on the DVD.

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Free Willy I - Presentation and Treatment of a Wild Animal
University of Potsdam  (American Studies)
Proseminar: Animals in Contemporary U.S. Literature
1,5 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
453 KB
Free, Willy, Presentation, Treatment, Wild, Animal, Proseminar, Animals, Contemporary, Literature
Quote paper
Julia Hansens (Author), 2002, Free Willy I - Presentation and Treatment of a Wild Animal, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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