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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.48%
Average: 3.55%
Pretty Bad: 3.55%
Total Crap: 12.06%

3 reviews, 123 user ratings

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Whale Rider
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"A Family Film With A General Magic"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2003 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Pride is a dangerous thing. Even more dangerous that its usually associated with men and their egos. We can't back down. It's a guy thing. Don't even get me started on the whole "honor" system of Karate Kid's second chapter. Pride can factor into family, backed up with talk of tradition and used to create a exclusionary world of misogyny and misplaced self-importance. Whale Rider is one such family story created for families that finally gives young girls an underdog heroine of their own.

When Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) was born, her twin brother passed into the next world along with her mother. Her father, Porourangi (the always terrific Cliff Curtis, finally getting to use his real accent after roles in Three Kings, Training Day and Blow) named her after the legendary whale rider who led the Whangara people to safety when they were lost at sea over 1000 years ago. After refusing to succeed his own father, Koro (Rawiri Paratene) as chief, this further act of defiance is accentuated when grief forces him to abandon his parental responsibilities leaving young Pai in the hands of a resentful grandfather.

The old curmudgeon isn't that way for long and becomes the grandpa everyone wants, riding bicycles and teaching the young girl. Now 12 years old, Pai didn't know what she was getting into when she cleverly fixes the motor that granddad couldn't. When Porourangi comes back into town, Pai makes the decision to leave with him to spend some quality time, further smiting the one-time father figure who is quickly revisiting the more traditional realms of a woman's place in the Maori world.

Grandma (Vicky Haughton) has been quietly threatening to leave the stubborn coot as far back as waiting for a word from the infant Pai to act on her promise. After Pai quickly realizes she may have hurt Koro's feelings and returns home, she is not ready for the hurtful isolation that will become a part of her resilience to the rules. Koro, with no male heir to speak of, teaches the local boys the way of combat as Pai is not allowed to join in their reindeer games and seeks aid from her uncle with more than a little spring in his step despite all the wisecracks about his weight.

Director Niki Caro has created an alternative piece of family viewing amidst all the wizards and adolescent secret agents out to save the world. There's a controlled fantasy element within the story, but its only a small piece of what makes this film so special. Underdog stories by nature must be told in a harsh environment that repeatedly keeps the hero(ine) down despite whatever obstacles they may overcome along the way. We have to empathize with that person and believe that we could have their courage when backed into their particular plight. Caro and her actors go a long way to making us true believers.

It's been awhile since I saw a child performance as nuanced as the work by Keisha Castle-Hughes. She has to be tough and confident while still locking in the fragility of a child on the verge of emotional withdrawal. You may have trouble hearing the deliverance of her school presentation through the tearing open of Kleenex boxes all around you. Rawiri Paratene makes the wise choice to not play Koro as just your choice villain. So many occasions find him playing the jerk card just shy of raising his hand to Pai, but there's a complexity and a pathetic quality to him that has us feeling for him even as he's proven wrong time and again. We don't cheer against him but identify with the questionable decisions that only amounted to lost time that could have been spent loving.

That fantasy element does come into play late in the proceedings and its one that any savvy filmgoer will see coming a league away. But Caro builds such sadness into the scene and up to that point that the payoff is such a relief for us, that we ride right along with it without blinking. The film could have ended there, but instead continues to another emotion-laden scene that doesn't quite payoff after its predecessor and an all-too-tidy and quick ending that doesn't work without that second payoff. Whale Rider is still a wonderful family entertainment that will leave the adults with smiles and tears on their faces and have the kiddies asking parents and grandparents alike important questions. When you answer the boys, be sure to tell them that the world is full of guys. Be a father. Be a grandfather. Be a man.

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originally posted: 06/06/03 15:13:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/30/11 aussie girl saw the movie in english twice both times it was total crap!! 2 stars
5/25/10 Alvin, Lee Jia Ren Watched it two times, both in english classes. Not very interesting, but not boring either. 3 stars
5/03/10 emma it is a horriable movie!! i wouldn't reckomend it to anyone!!! 1 stars
10/19/09 gal from oz Beautiful tear jerker. U'll need: a box of tissues, chocolate, ice cream... 5 stars
1/17/09 Samantha Pruitt Great movie, the little girl does a great job, love the story, and the visuals are great! 4 stars
1/12/09 Shaun Wallner Wonderful story. 5 stars
11/24/08 jsmith Probably one of the top five performances by a child actor - ever - she carried the movie. 5 stars
9/23/08 Laur' The ending kept me on the edge of my seat. 4 stars
12/28/07 Taylor Fladgate One of the best movies of 2003. Should have won a Golden Globe. 5 stars
8/23/07 J.Won very boring/ not interesting 1 stars
8/23/07 dsadad worst movie in history 1 stars
8/14/07 wade hyland itwas boring but some bits were ok 3 stars
6/20/07 sal Good movie, but waaay too predictable 4 stars
6/12/07 bob worst movie ever!11 1 stars
5/28/07 Ryan What, what, what happened? 1 stars
12/07/06 Jedi good film watch it 5 stars
12/04/06 Britney I also was forced to watch this in college.I did find it moving and at times irritating. 4 stars
10/26/06 Shirantha. R i h8 it very much 1 stars
10/24/06 Samantha Great film, very meaningful 5 stars
10/12/06 Ella my dad liked it but i hated it my dad made me whach that movie over and over again. 1 stars
10/10/06 Noddie a good nz film and probably worth watching some humour and great meanings! 4 stars
10/06/06 jess it was really boring 1 stars
10/03/06 austin it sucks srry 1 stars
7/06/06 rachel heavy hearted, beautiful, capturing 5 stars
3/30/06 emma shit 1 stars
11/08/05 yesenia guardado i loved this movie it was great!!! 5 stars
11/04/05 Anna Terribly boring film I was forced to watch in college. 2 stars
10/20/05 Nicole Davies Moving, emotion history movie... exceeds all expectations! 5 stars
8/22/05 Adam Valka Dull, boring crap 1 stars
8/09/05 Nancy Sparks Heartwarming and awesome. One of the best films I've seen 5 stars
7/26/05 Kankasaur Island folk mythology is under the microscope, but truly universal in scope. 5 stars
6/15/05 Regina Madut its a great film and i wouldn't mind seeing ti again for the third time 5 stars
6/05/05 calvin jarabane one of the best films 4 educational motives 5 stars
5/28/05 av great and touching i cried all the way through. A must see. As i said the touching movie iv 5 stars
5/08/05 Mc V It's better than doing English (we watched it in school for english) 4 stars
2/20/05 sam it was quite good 4 stars
1/11/05 Katie Heath most emotional and gut-wrenching story 5 stars
11/03/04 Cassie it is the most sadest, heartbreaking film i have ever seen and i would watch it again...... 5 stars
6/22/04 Daniel Jefferies Its crap 1 stars
5/31/04 Nobody YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWN 1 stars
4/27/04 Nyomi Cook i thought this movie was poo 5 stars
3/22/04 anon I thought it challenged traditional cultural beliefs and attitudes exceptionally well! 5 stars
3/17/04 Carol I love this movie! A beautiful story about relationships, culture, & inner strength. 5 stars
3/03/04 miare it's cool, keisha is very identical to my 15 y.o. daughter 5 stars
2/29/04 jimmy two times powerful and powerful without europeans saving the day. she should win the oscar. 5 stars
2/25/04 Wilby Anyone else notice how most Maori were aloof to what two obsessors deemed culturally vital? 2 stars
2/22/04 Shades of The Last Samurai MorePC OD-ing on obsessing on most inflexible tradition at expense of REALcultural richness 3 stars
2/18/04 Nancy I saw the movie twice in the theater. I never do that, but I loved this movie 5 stars
2/01/04 Smitty Absolutely amazing performance for a kid that never acted a day in her life 5 stars
1/28/04 y2mckay It was pretty decent, but Jesus Christ people (and critics), it wasn't THAT great! 4 stars
1/17/04 Leila This movie is the best I have ever seen 5 stars
1/17/04 Nick Tyler I can relate to the "whale Rider" movie, I come from a line who have sharks as protectors. 5 stars
12/27/03 Two-G - horror_blood2 (aka Double G) (1 G) ahh... stupid movie, back to sleep I go. ZZZZZ! 1 stars
12/24/03 Snickerdoodle Pretty good; the sexist grandfather grated on my nerves but the ending was good. 4 stars
12/23/03 smartmusician Was extremely surprised 5 stars
12/05/03 Josephine Henry Quite slow, more about the legend of Paikea would have been better 3 stars
11/29/03 Johnny's Been Rotten JJ, did you even see this movie? It was amazing!! 5 stars
11/10/03 alisha what a great movie, i wish Hollywood would sit up and take notes! 5 stars
11/10/03 alisha what a great movie, i wish Hollywood would sit up and take notes! 5 stars
11/10/03 alisha what a great movie, i wish Hollywood would sit up and take notes! 5 stars
10/22/03 Wai Haenga Awesome and so true 5 stars
10/16/03 Popcorn Hunny Beautiful! That little girl deserves an Oscar!!! 5 stars
9/29/03 Honolulu Tur J.Lo wishes she could act 1/100000th as good as the girl in this movie-it'll never happen 5 stars
9/12/03 JJ from da block Whale rider? Sounds like me on JLo's jigglin booty 2 stars
8/30/03 Suzz beautifully photographed but predictable and a bit slow 3 stars
8/25/03 Marinomoana Ward I had to go and see it again and again, it is such a wonderful movie. 5 stars
8/18/03 Susan Deer Cloud Shows how traditions have to sometimes change for tribal people to keep spiritual power 5 stars
8/12/03 shelley stults wonderful...beautifully set and inspired...gotta see 5 stars
8/10/03 Georgina McLaren moving, wonderfully acted fillm 5 stars
8/08/03 Ramona Woods What kind of whales are they? 5 stars
8/05/03 ASilva A wonderful story! 5 stars
8/04/03 Eric S. It's unfortunate that most people would rather see drek like Bad Boys II instead... 5 stars
8/02/03 john wonderful 5 stars
8/02/03 Chinese NZer Most beautiful movie I've ever seen!! 5 stars
8/01/03 Kekai Kane This movie is amazing, to bad it will get no recignition come oscar time 5 stars
7/29/03 Jenette One of the best films I have ever seen 5 stars
7/27/03 Bam Margera Words can't describe how brilliant this movie is,amazing in every aspect. I love this movie 5 stars
7/27/03 Sylvia J. Brightwell Best movie I've ever seen 5 stars
7/25/03 Rawiri Winiata Nau mai haere mai mo tenei movie ki tatau tohora. 5 stars
7/25/03 your worst goddamn nightmare Wow! ok? Wow! Such emotion in this movie! That little girl is amazin'! 5 stars
7/23/03 Cameron Slick Incredible, the best movie of the year, see this movie if you have any good taste in films! 5 stars
7/19/03 skye loved it 5 stars
7/14/03 Kimmy Johnson I'm in love with this film 5 stars
7/14/03 Kia Ora Waht a fantastic movie. That little girl deserves an Oscar. 5 stars
7/10/03 Polohu Abela I thought the movie shows a variety of things such as the simularity of most of poly/cultur 5 stars
7/09/03 ? Kia ora kotokatou whale rider is da shit!!! 5 stars
7/09/03 Toby Petterson A must-see! 5 stars
7/09/03 Dead Ringers FX Rule! A beautiful film that could defeat the cynics all together. I hope to have a tough daughter 5 stars
7/09/03 Skiv Incredible vision and storytelling. Really unique work. 5 stars
7/08/03 blabity blah blah blah Awesome acting. Powerful movie!!! Was awed!!! 5 stars
7/07/03 Emperor's New Clothes? Nope. Just a Fat, Ugly, Naked, Guy. "No interesting?" Learn some English. Come back. The young actress is most impressive. 4 stars
7/07/03 Arnie Wasserman I finished this movie totally exhausted and emotionally drained! 5 stars
7/06/03 Bette I saw it twice in one day. I've never done that before! 5 stars
7/05/03 Get Bent Kal Most beautiful mover ever. Pity that it's too deep for some. 5 stars
7/03/03 Tiffany Broadbent i loved it 5 stars
7/01/03 Bill Hodges It's the best, complete film I have seen in years. 5 stars
7/01/03 Kal no interesting 1 stars
7/01/03 MovieLuvr The most beautiful movie I've ever seen. That kid deserves an oscar! Mini Maori Meryl 5 stars
7/01/03 NoRefill A very moving film. 5 stars
6/27/03 Mary Burrows Absolutely Beautiful 4 stars
6/26/03 Brenda Cooke I saw this movie 5 times, and found it as compelling and beautiful, every time. 5 stars
6/26/03 Brenda Cooke I saw this movie 5 times, and found it as compelling and beautiful, every time. 5 stars
6/21/03 alien assassin A beautifully made movie. Great performance from keisha 4 stars
6/17/03 ray rrrrrrrrrrr 1 stars
6/12/03 Jake Booth best movie ive seen in years 5 stars
6/12/03 Charles Night Wonderful, inspiring, a whale of a tale for all ages 5 stars
6/11/03 Gerard Motola Keisha is a great young actress! 5 stars
6/09/03 Deb Scott Keisha rules! My girls and I went twice. 5 stars
6/06/03 Nicholas Good acting, touching story, let down by terrible execution. 2 stars
6/05/03 Mike Winblad Fanstatic performance by Castle-Hughes. Just give her the Oscar now. 5 stars
6/03/03 Christina Khabbaz One of the best films I've seen in a long time 5 stars
5/28/03 Pearce Duncan A simple story beautifully told 5 stars
5/25/03 Mark Jensen My stomach aches and my chest hurts.. the power of a wonderful performance from Keisha 5 stars
5/22/03 A. Grace Magical, wonderful and inspiring! 5 stars
5/22/03 Richard Higginbottom This film has wonder at its heart, moving the spirit and the heart .A great film 5 stars
5/19/03 Jenny Liu TOTALLY AWESOME! 5 stars
5/15/03 Anne Ware Fantastic scenery and story 5 stars
5/14/03 Holger Hansmann impressive performance by Keisha Castle-Hughes 5 stars
5/13/03 rubens Magical!!! 5 stars
5/12/03 Ebony faaah man it is tha bomb!! no doubt its awesome 2 tha daiz chur 5 stars
5/10/03 C.Ihaka. It is the BOMB!! I cryed 2 and its a really good movie. Go watch it, its a must see movie. 5 stars
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  06-Jun-2003 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Oct-2003

  11-Jul-2003 (PG)

  08-May-2003 (PG)

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