Whale Rider

2003

Whale Rider

Critics Consensus

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

91%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 152

88%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 49,911
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Movie Info

On the east coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people believe their presence there dates back a thousand years or more to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale. From then on, Whangara chiefs have always been the first-born and male. Many generations later, the contemporary tale revolves around a young mother whose male newborn twin dies in childbirth. Her young husband flees New Zealand in grief, leaving grandparents Koro and Nanny Flowers to raise the sole survivor, a feisty little girl named Pai, who radiates with life and energy. It's no wonder that her grandmother and the entire community love her, but alas, the grandfather she worships is too busy mourning the loss of the baby boy he expected would lead the tribe to better days.

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Critic Reviews for Whale Rider

All Critics (152) | Top Critics (40)

  • Newcomer Castle-Hughes' unaffected, confident turn makes it credible our heroine might retain her determination and self-worth despite serial setbacks.

    Jul 22, 2008

    Dennis Harvey

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • 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.

    Nov 1, 2007 | Full Review…

    David Ansen

    Newsweek
    Top Critic
  • 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.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • The most effective and moving female empowerment movie in awhile.

    Jul 3, 2003 | Rating: A+
  • Every bit as bold and uplifting as its title suggests.

    Jul 1, 2003 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • [The story] is so simple that the audience gets ahead of it from the beginning.

    Jun 27, 2003 | Rating: 2/4 | 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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