Whale Rider (2002)

8df707a948fac1b4a0f97aa554886ec8This is what a children’s film should be, uplifting, encouraging, and a beautiful film about family and empowerment. This is what children’s films should be like. True realistic portraits with engaging characters and an uplifting message. The film has themes children will connect with such as seeking approval from parents, attempting to prove yourself as an adult, being raised and pressured to carry on their traditions, living up to your sibling, and basically journeying to come of age, while we can relate to the characters here. The characters are human, not broadly sketched, and each are so utterly esoteric and revealing beneath their layers and personalities that we anxiously watch to see what will become of Director Caro’s vision that, even adults may find themselves engrossed.

Caro paints such a moving and utterly amazing portrait of this New Zealand village and its tribe members facing the diminishing, or perhaps new age of their beloved traditions through a courageous young girl who dares to challenge the rules to be a Maori chief. Paikea is a very traditional gung-ho practicing Maori who follows the rules of her own kind. The women stay to care for home and eventually mate, while the elders train the young men for the Maori tribes. But halfway along the path, Paikea discovers that she feels she’s not good enough. This life just isn’t good enough. Her father is a ghost who barely visits her, and despite her bond with her grandfather, he just cant get his approval, and now wants to break out of the conventions of the Maori tribes with her free-spirited nature.

The story of Paikea is a legend played out along the Maori as, during birth, her twin brother, destined for Maori chief hood, dies, thus the prophecy is ruined. And in spite of Paikea’s superior warrior skills, she can not become a maori, and her grandfather sees to that. Rawiri Paratene plays Paikea’s grandfather and traditionalist who is intent on keeping the traditions and even neglects Paikea in order to do so. Paratene gives an excellent performance, probably the best, with his quiet dignity and powerful presence truly representing the antagonistic figure so desperate to keep his beloved religion sacred, but just can’t deny the talents of his granddaughter. Caro presents such beautiful direction with dreamy landscapes, and often times fantastic oceanic landscapes that really give New Zealand a life of its own while telling this human story.

This is about the time where a film geared to children would become immensely bubbly, incredibly stupid, and we’re just shown nothing but colorful characters to loosen the slack, but nothing such as that ever happens, and there is never any sap or sugar coating. The more Paikea attempts to prove herself to her grandfather, the more he neglects and pulls away from her, and ultimately, we get to see if their relationship becomes stronger or completely collapses underneath the breaking of tradition. Such of which is presented in the incredibly heartbreaking and emotional sequence where Paikea dedicates a speech to her grandfather in the assembly.

Hughes who was nominated for an Oscar, gives a beautiful performance as the courageous Pikea aided by her bravery and her grandmother who is a contradiction of being subservient but outspoken, loyal to the traditions, but willing to sacrifice them to push her grand daughter beyond the limits of their tribe. In the end, the film ends up becoming a beautiful ode to tradition, family, empowerment, and coming of age. This is what a children’s film should be like. This is exactly the type of children’s entertainment parent’s should find suitable for their children, because inside and out, this is what a film targeted toward kids should be with an uplifting encouraging story and fantastical elements. Powerful performances help an utterly beautiful masterpiece.