Whale Rider

2002, Kids & family/Drama, 1h 41m

155 Reviews 25,000+ Ratings

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critics consensus

An empowering and uplifting movie, with a wonderful performance by Castle-Hughes. Read critic reviews

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Movie Info

Only males are allowed to ascend to chiefdom in a Maori tribe in New Zealand. This ancient custom is upset when the child selected to be the next chief dies at birth. However his twin sister, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), survives. At age 12, she enlists the help of her grandmother (Vicky Haughton) and the training of her uncle (Grant Roa) to claim her birthright. But to break with convention, she'll have to do the impossible: win over her ultra-traditional grandfather (Rawiri Paratene).

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Critic Reviews for Whale Rider

All Critics (155) | Top Critics (46) | Fresh (141) | Rotten (14)

  • Excellent to watch and discuss as a family.

    December 29, 2010 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Newcomer Castle-Hughes' unaffected, confident turn makes it credible our heroine might retain her determination and self-worth despite serial setbacks.

    July 22, 2008
  • The filmmaker knows how to seduce an audience without making it feel had. When a movie's this likable, it would take a very tough crowd not to be pleased.

    November 1, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Niki Caro roots her characters in a landscape equal parts mundane and boundless, incorporates tantalising sea photography and Lisa's Gerrard's ambient soundtrack, and lifts off into a sublime, Elysian ending.

    January 26, 2006 | Full Review…
  • Like a breath of fresh South Pacific air, director Caro combines classic themes with a little-seen cultural perspective to come up with an uplifting crowd-pleaser.

    January 4, 2004 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Caro seems less concerned with evoking the economic or socio-political baggage bringing the film's characters down than she is with telling the same sappy tale of patriarchal perseverance we've seen so many times before.

    October 16, 2003 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • Excellent to watch and discuss as a family.

    December 29, 2010 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Newcomer Castle-Hughes' unaffected, confident turn makes it credible our heroine might retain her determination and self-worth despite serial setbacks.

    July 22, 2008
  • The filmmaker knows how to seduce an audience without making it feel had. When a movie's this likable, it would take a very tough crowd not to be pleased.

    November 1, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Niki Caro roots her characters in a landscape equal parts mundane and boundless, incorporates tantalising sea photography and Lisa's Gerrard's ambient soundtrack, and lifts off into a sublime, Elysian ending.

    January 26, 2006 | Full Review…
  • [A] heartfelt drama about gender, culture and generational clashes.

    September 10, 2020 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • I get a pleasant surprise observing its tale of inclusion, ancestral traditions and family wounds. [Full review in Spanish]

    August 8, 2020 | Rating: 7/10 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Whale Rider

  • Sep 30, 2014
    The indie film Whale Rider is an engrossing character drama with an inspirational message. The story follows a 12-year-old Maori girl named Paikea Apirana who struggles to earn her grandfather's love and respect, but is neglected and belittled as he seeks to find a new chief to lead the Maori tribe. The relationship between Paikea and her grandfather is exceptionally well-written and feels remarkably real. But a lot of the credit has to go to newcomer Keisha Castle-Hughes, who gives an amazingly heartbreaking performance that's incredibly compelling. Touching and powerful, Whale Rider is extraordinarily well-crafted film.
    Dann M Super Reviewer
  • Feb 07, 2013
    A poetic look into a different culture that really isn't too different, simply remembering that it was at one time and wanting to hold that memory. A small coastal community of Maoris deal daily with being New Zealanders while not being entirely so, particularly hard for a young pubescent lass ostracized because of her sex, despite that she offers hope of continuing traditions. Good performances by all the leads though the story worries around a barn door being open long, long after the horse has already gone.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Jan 03, 2013
    So, it is the typical story of a young outsider making a moving film and then vanishing. Such is the case with Keisha Castle Hughes. The Kiwis have given us a few uplifting films involving their aboriginal peoples and this one is particularly memorable.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 17, 2012
    A young girl might fulfill a prophecy in an indigenous New Zealand community. Though the film brims with authenticity, it is almost too authentic. There are voice overs explaining the culture in which the film is set, but I spent some of the film lost about the relationship between the protagonist and the legend she's supposed to fulfill. The patriarchal structure of the family provides grounding to the story, and the interactions between the characters are interesting, but the grand metaphysical puzzle that dominates this film isn't clear to one who is unfamiliar with the film's cultural backdrop. Overall, I liked <i>Whale Rider</i>, but I don't think I fully got it.
    Jim H Super Reviewer

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