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WHALE RIDER

A young New Zealander aspires to do two things no girl in her village has ever done--ride a whale and become tribal chief.

CAST: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Mana Taumaunu, Rachel House

DIRECTOR: Niki Caro


"Castle-Hughes, who’s never acted before, is totally beguiling…she possesses an innate grace that makes her transformation from outcast adolescent to spiritual warrior seem utterly natural…While ‘Whale Rider’ is a doozy of a female-empowerment fantasy, it’s mercifully free of any feminist smugness…By the time the story takes its climactic leap into the mystical, we’re ready to follow it anywhere…When a movie’s this likable, it would take a very tough crowd not to be pleased." --David Ansen, Newsweek

"Much of the film's power comes from the delicate charisma of Keisha Castle-Hughes, making her acting debut as Pai…Her intelligent, dark eyes are so expressive that she has the piquant confidence of a silent-film heroine…Her instinctive underplaying gives ‘Whale Rider’ an added gravity, with the lush remoteness of the landscape serving as an entrancing contrast to the sugar-rush, you-go-girl empowerment of programmed pandering like ‘The Lizzie McGuire Movie,’ whose tweener heroine flails her arms and bats her eyes as if she were sending distress signals." --Elvis Mitchell, The New York Times

"Beautifully shot, acted and directed, Niki Caro's ‘Whale Rider’ is a contemporary version of an aboriginal legend from New Zealand that should delight audiences of all ages. Keisha Castle-Hughes gives a remarkable performance as Pai, a 12-year-old Maori of singular determination …This excellent adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's novel works its spell largely because of young Keisha, who, like most of the children in this movie, never acted before." --Lou Lumenick, The New York Post

"‘Whale Rider’ is a female empowerment fable whose secret weapon is 11-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, a luminous new talent who will have little girls everywhere longing to be leader of the pack…Like the heroine of Scott O'Dell's popular young-adult novel ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins,’ Pai is resourceful and in harmony with the natural world in a way that will charm and enthrall young viewers." --Jami Bernard, The New York Daily News

"Steeped in Maori culture and thick with the sort of crunchy-granola, back-to-nature earnestness that often passes for art at film festivals, ‘Whale Rider’ is a portentous coming-of-age saga that weighs as much as the venerated ocean mammals at its center…The film begins in mourning, wallows in gloom and surfaces briefly with a last-ditch burst of sister-power glory. It wants to be triumphal, but it plays like a dirge." --Jan Stuart, Newsday

"Although it's a work of great warmth with an overwhelming finale, ‘Whale Rider’ (written and directed by Niki Caro from the novel by Witi Ihimaera) is also a substantial film of unexpected emotional force. And when at a certain point it seems to slip the bonds of this world and take a leap of faith into an almost mythological dimension, it breathlessly takes us along for that memorable ride…Among the other qualities Caro (whose first film was the prizewinning ‘Memory and Desire’) brings to the mix are a willingness to let this story tell itself in its own time and the ability to create emotion that is intense without being cloying or dishonest. She is also able, and this is critical, to leave the mundane behind and steer the film to a higher level when the story demands to go there." --Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times

"In the moving, dreamily paced ‘Whale Rider,’ a girl who dares to challenge the tradition-bound status quo in her coastal village emerges a leader of her Maori tribe, the Polynesian people native to New Zealand…Steeped in an aura of mysticism, the story centers on Pai, a fearless 12-year-old luminously played by Keisha Castle-Hughes…Castle-Hughes seems a born actress, so effectively does she convey her pained confusion through subtle vocal cues, tentative stance and expressive dark eyes." --Claudia Puig, USA Today