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Movie Review: Whale Rider

Story: There is nothing new in this genuine, heartfelt film. However, I am happy to recommend it on many levels. It is based on the legend of the origins of the Maori people (rather than arriving on ships - their ancestors arrived on the backs of whales-cool)! from the novel by the Maori author, Witi Ihimaera. The non-Maori director Niki Caro worked closely with the Maori people and filmed the movie on location.

The story revolves around a tribal society's challenge to maintain its beliefs and traditions as it struggles to keep a millennium old culture alive in a modern world. Can a patriarchal society be led by a female? Can a culture that is being left behind regain it's pride and heritage?

It is a feel-good uplifting tale of a beautiful people who live in a magnificent land. Yes, it is schmaltzy and predictable -- but it's a whale of a tale!

Acting: Keisha Castle-Hughes is astoundingly perfect in this part as the vulnerable yet durable young, Pai. She is a dead ringer for a young Jennifer Beals (Flashdance). Rawiri Paratene as the grandfather was also a good choice. The entire cast (many were not professional actors) were right on the money. The whales were also excellent.

Predilection: I like stories about the Maori people and culture.

Critters: Needless to say -- there are whales. But we also spot a cat and a dog.

Food: Hearty breakfasts, large pot luck gatherings and family dinners. As a people the Maoris seem to be good eaters.

Visual Art: Pai's father is a sculptor so we are treated to some modern versions of Maori art. Also some beautiful carvings of more traditional Maori sculpture.

Blatant Product Placement: None.

Soundtrack: Heart tugging and traditional.

Opening Titles: Simple type superimposed over ocean water.

Theater Audience: A small group of loyal Maori fans. I think this film will get around by word of mouth through the summer.

Sappy Factor: 5

Squirm Scale: No one likes to see a beached whale.

Predictability Level: Over the top -- but I didn't care and went along for the ride.

Tissue Usage: One would have to possess a heart of stone not to at least get teary eyed by watching this beautiful little girl.

Oscar Worthy: No.

Nit Picking: It needed more editing. It could have been 15 minutes shorter.

Big Screen or Rental: Go for the big screen. For another Maori film (much darker), try: Once Were Warriors.

Length: A bit under Two hours.