Jump to: Spoilers (4)
After the movie was released, it brought the living conditions of the star orca, Keiko (Willy) to the world's attention. His tank was too small, with too-warm chlorinated artificial salt water. Keiko suffered from a weakened immune system and a skin condition around his pectoral fins. There was a monumental effort to release Keiko. A custom tank was built in the Oregon Coast Aquarium and in 1996, the whale was flown from Mexico to Oregon. He recovered well, and was moved to a sea pen in 1998. In July 2002, Keiko was released into the wild after spending 22 years in captivity. Unfortunately he did not fully adapt to the wild and died in December 2003 in Norway. Keiko became the second oldest orca to live in captivity.
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After the release of the film, millions of moviegoers called the number shown at the end of the movie where $20 million was donated for the Save the Whales Foundation.
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Keiko, the killer whale used in the film, died on Friday 12 December 2003 after the sudden onset of pneumonia in the Taknes Fjord in Norway. The whale was 27 years old.
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TIME Magazine reported that there were two animatronic robots standing in for Keiko: a complete one coated with 1,350 kg (2,976 lb) of rubber, and just a top part with big underwater propellers to imitate swift swimming. Special effects supervisor Walt Conti said that the dummy looked so realistic to Keiko that he became sexually aroused.
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Jack Nicholson turned down the role of the villain Dial, balking at the low pay offered.
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This is the only Free Willy film in which Willy is played by Keiko. An animatronic killer whale plays Willy in the sequels.
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Most close-up shots involving limited movement by Willy such as when Willy is in the trailer and the sequences involving Willy swimming in the open water was an animatronic whale,Walt Conti who supervised the effects of the orca estimated that half of the shots of the orca used animatronic stand-ins.Conti stated that the smaller movements of a real orca made things difficult in some ways for him and his crew., they had to concentrate on smaller nuances in order to make the characters seem alive.
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August Schellenberg dubbed himself in the French Canadian version.
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The most extensive use of CGI in the film is the climax filmed in Astoria Oregon where Willy jumps over Jesse.
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At the film's opening, one of the whaling vessels bears the name 'Pequod', a nod to the whaling ship in 'Moby Dick'.
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After the scene where Jesse and the Greenwoods eat dinner the next scene shows a sunset cloud above that looks like an orca with the fin sticking up. This was a coincidence to the movie.
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The Haida prayer Randolph teaches Jesse, "Sa la na a yuum iasis" roughly translates to, "Be free someday".
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All stunts with Keiko the Orca were performed by the young Orca trainer Justin Sherbert (Known additionally by his stage name, Justin Sherman).
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Alex Vincent auditioned for the part of Jesse.
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When the film was broadcast with a Mexican dub in the United States, it was titled "Libren a Willy," which is grammatically incorrect. The correct Spanish title would have been "Liberen a Willy," or "Liberad a Willy" which is the title used in Spain.
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Both Lori Petty and Jayne Atkinson, who play Rae Lindley and Annie Greenwood respectively, both star on Netflix's two most successful shows. Petty in Orange is the New Black and Atkinson in House of Cards.
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Micheal Madsen and Mykelti Williamson who played Glen Greenwood and Dwlight Mercer later starred together in Species II.
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Annie's car is a, 1992 Ford Taurus GL Wagon [DN5].
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Glens truck is a, 1985 GMC K-3500 Wideside Big Dooley.
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Dial's car is a, 1991 Chevrolet Corvette C4.
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At the end of the film after Willy has jumped over the wall, Jesse is talking out loud, saying goodbye to Willy. The scene is very reminiscent of the end of "The Goonies" when Mikey is talking to himself and saying goodbye to One-Eyed Willie, both even sounding alike in tone of voice. Both films are set in the Pacific Northwest, and both were filmed in Astoria, Oregon.
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Danielle Harris makes a cameo appearance in this film as Gwenie.
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This film marks the first appearances of Jesse, Randolph, Glen and Annie and the only appearances of Rae, Dial, Wade and Perry.
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Lori Petty, Michael Ironside and Richard Riehle later appeared together again in The Arrangement (1999).
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