FROM MY OWN PRIVATE COLLECTION "Free Willy Triple Feature" (1993-1997)

I don't know how much of a compliment it is to them, but whenever I think of Michael Madsen, Jayne Atkinson, August Schellenberg and Mykelti Williamson, I don't think of Reservoir Dogs, or Karen Hayes from 24, or Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, or Three Kings. I instantly think of what each of them brought to this killer whale franchise.

These are family films and, a result, they come with an excessive dose of fluff and life lessons (these aren't movies that necessarily work in subtleties). Still, it's kind of fun to dust them off the shelf and watch what used to pass as enthralling entertainment when you were a kid.

It's also interesting to see who's broken through in a big way, and who hasn't. The adults are still incredibly active, which is nice to see, but the former child stars aren't exactly household names. Except for The Neverending Story III, I don't remember the last time I saw Jason James Richter anywhere. Mary Kate Schellhardt was in both Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home and Apollo 13 in 1995. Since then, she's guest starred in only a handful of shows, including Scrubs.

Though he hasn't quite made it big either, Francis Capra has definitely changed the most since playing Jesse's little brother Elvis. He's gotten roles on Heroes and Veronica Mars, and he even appeared in my favorite show (Friday Night Lights) as one of Santiago's old friends. But check out Francis from earlier in his career, and Francis now. Wow.

As for the movies themselves, they'll probably still find appeal with the younger crowd, assuming they don't mind bits of overacting and eco-friendly messages hammered into their brains. Of the three, I'd say the second installment has the most interesting storyline, though hearing Jesse say "Come on, let's go!" for the hundredth time gets a little old after a while.

If you can't get passed how dated the films may seem now, there's always two great Michael Jackson songs to look forward to.

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