By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Given the surefire nature of the true-life material — three whales trapped at an Arctic icehole, rescued by unlikely collaborators — “Big Miracle” is better than it probably needed to be.
In other words, it looks like somebody watched a few Frank Capra classics before they assembled this likable tale, which is drawn from a 1988 incident that captured the world’s attention. The three California gray whales lingered too long in the waters near Barrow, Alaska, and the frozen sea closed in around them, save for a lonely opening in the ice.
In the movie’s rosy-colored scheme, this incident touches even the staunchest enemies, who end up locking arms in an attempt to get the whales out: local Inuit, U.S. military, environmentalists, news reporters and oil men. Even the Evil Empire gets drawn into the act, along with the upper reaches of the White House.
An agreeable cast is on board, led by Drew Barrymore at her Drewiest, playing a pesky tree-hugger, and John Krasinski (from “The Office”) as an Anchorage TV reporter looking for his big break. Ted Danson plays an oil magnate as though born into the Bush family, Dermot Mulroney and Tim Blake Nelson contribute nice character pieces, and Kristen Bell plays a rising network reporter.
Typical of the movie’s genial tone, that last character could’ve been a stock villainess, but isn’t, exactly. The only out-and-out caricatures are Rob Riggle and James LeGros as two Minnesota fellas who invent a lo-tech de-icer, doncha know. But in their case, it’s all right.
“Big Miracle” aims a few toothless zingers at environmentalists and “Drill, Baby, Drill” types alike, but doesn’t stray from Disney-style softness for any of that. To its credit, the film acknowledges some of the sadder moments of the suspenseful saga, even if the ultimate outcome is never really in doubt.
Director Ken Kwapis, an old hand at movies and TV like this, guides the multi-armed story with ease. Everything’s probably a little too cozy and easy, although the outdoorsy scenes look genuinely cold, and so do the poor actors.
Besides, it’s about saving the whales. And for those viewers who can’t stomach the hard-hitting documentary shock of “The Cove,” which chronicled Japan’s slaughter of dolphins, getting the message out with a spoonful of sugar, is pretty darned effective.
A family-friendly take on a 1988 incident involving three California gray whales trapped by the Arctic ice, and the international efforts to save them. An amiable Capraesque quality comes out of the picture, and the nice cast is led by Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski.
Rated: PG, for subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Marysville, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.
Correction, Feb. 3: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that “Big Miracle” is a production of the Walt Disney Co.