Big Miracle: Lots of Great Discussion Opportunities for Parents and Kids

This piece originally appeared in my Green and Simple column on the Old Town Alexandria Patch.

I’m not one for sappy, giggly, feel-good movies, but as a mom of three preschool and elementary school-age kids, I’ve learned to tolerate, and even appreciate some of them, as is the case with Big Miracle.

Recently, a teacher professional development day meant no school for Alexandria students. With my husband and son headed to my in-laws in Pennsylvania for a boys weekend, the girls and I headed to the movies — a rare treat. As we soon learned, while taking advantage of the matinee discount, several other families from the girls’ elementary school had the same idea!

When it comes to kid’s movies, although animated films are fun, I prefer family movies based on fanciful stories involving living characters and animals, engaging adventures and natural environments. Big Miracle, with it’s based-on-a-true-story whale tale fit the bill.

Kids will appreciate the compelling and suspenseful tale of three gray whales who are unexpectedly trapped when ice along their migration route along the Alaskan coast freezes earlier than usual, leaving this family of whales stranded under a five mile sheet of ice six inches deep. Breathing through a relatively small hole through which the whales periodically poke their heads and spouts, they grow weary, their bodies battered and bruised as they try to keep the ice from refreezing above them. With the weather conditions and time working against them, they struggle to hang on as rescue efforts get underway.

The movie is filled with characters with competing agendas: the big oil tycoon who wants to drill in the region; the Green Peace activist who is on a crusade to stop the drilling and is temporarily side-tracked by her mission to save the whales; the politicians, some of whom are dragged into the quest to save the whales and others who come for the PR opportunities; the native Inupiat people who hunt and harvest whales as part of their culture and traditions; and the media who descend upon the small village of Barrow and infuse yet another perspective.

Along the way, many lessons are learned … by the native Inupiat boy who doesn’t really get what all of the fuss is about, the reporter that broke the story who’s goal was to earn a ticket to a gig on a mainland TV network, and the very quiet and wise Inupiat elder who doesn’t really want to get involved. By the end of the film, those representing various interests have coalesced into a cohesive group, united by their common goal to save the whales.

What I really appreciated about the movie were the numerous constructive concepts for creating conversations with kids:

  • One person really can make a difference. One reporter who was curious about and intrigued by the stranded whales created a news report about it. Because of that, people were inspired to act to save them.
  • People who have different and even competing interests can find common ground, and even work together. Communication is key.
  • Unlikely partners can come together for a cause in which they believe, even if their motivations are different.
  • Passion and dedication to a cause can have a powerful impact on individuals and communities.
  • There is power and strength in being able to see and appreciate another person’s perspective, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Low supply and high demand makes for interesting, and sometimes profitable, economics!

Rated PG, the movie is suitable for children ages seven or eight and older. Younger kids will get swept up in the heart-tugging struggle of the whales, but the (simplified) complexities of the competing interests groups may be more challenging for them to embrace. There is a tragic turn in the story that may be upsetting to the younger set as well.

If you’ve got a couple of hours on your hands, Big Miracle is a worthwhile investment. My girls each gave it two big thumbs up.

Now playing at AMC Hoffman Center 22  and Regal Potomac Yard 16.

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