|In 1993, a little film about a boy and his three-ton killer whale became a surprise hit in a summer that included Jurassic Park and The Fugitive. Free Willy was a story of friendship, love, and ecological responsibility. One year later, an animated Free Willy hit the airwaves with the same basic premise. Well, except for the fact that the whale could talk.
Yes, sometime after he made that spectacular leap at the end of the first film, Willy acquired the power of speech (then lost it again for the film sequels). The talented orca was joined by other talking marine animals—a sea lion named Lucille and a baby dolphin named Einstein. Jesse and Willy were still pals, and the teen managed to stay in touch with his big buddy by working on the research vessel Eco-Ranger II. Marine experts Randolph and Marlene were also on board.
On the cartoon, Willy played the wise mentor to brash young Jesse. Lucille shared Jesse’s independent streak, and she often got herself into trouble, forcing a rescue. The series’ regular villain was the environmentally unfriendly “The Machine.”
The series ran for two seasons, after which our whale hero decided to stick with features.