Free Willy was a breakout success in its initial release, and a sequel was therefore inevitable. Released in 1995, Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home was a modest success, despite ditching Keiko the whale in favor of animatronics, and paved the way for a third film later in the decade. The late composer Basil Poledouris signed on for the sequel, as did pop star Michael Jackson, but the resulting album was far weaker than the original.
While each of the first two Free Willy scores were padded with pop tunes designed to sell CD’s, Free Willy 2 represents a nightmare for all film score enthusiasts: a good score barely represented on album and buried by songs. Only ten minutes of Poledouris’ score made it onto the album, sandwiched between Michael Jackson songs (once again referred to as “Theme from Free Willy 2” on the packaging) and “bonus tracks” that did not appear in the film. None of the songs fit in well with the overall spirit of the film or Poledouris’ score, and by 1995 even Jackson was not much of a draw, his “Childhood” song seeming especially awkward in light of the troubled star’s legal difficulties between the release of the original film and its sequel.
Poledouris acquits himself well with limited album space, returning to and expanding upon his approach to the first film. “Main Titles” reintroduces the main theme from the first film, punctuated by sprightly flourishes and tasteful use of electronic accents and percussion. The theme is lighter and more charming than in the first installment, and performed by an impressive-sounding orchestral ensemble. “Whale Swim” features more electronics, including the undulating electronic notes found in the first score, combined with another robust orchestral performance and solo guitar. The track also reintroduces the secondary theme from Free Willy, delightfully punctuated with woodblocks. The final track, “Reunion,” is the most subdued of the three, and features no electronics of note, just lovely orchestral writing and a triumphant fanfare at the end. As always, Poledouris’s passion for the sea in his personal life bleeds wonderfully through into his music.
So, as a score fan, should you seek out Free Willy 2, despite its wretched album situation? If you’re looking for an introduction to the series and its themes, Free Willy is certainly superior to its sequel as an album. But if you’ve heard and enjoyed the first score, Free Willy 2 serves as an enjoyable expansion, if you can find the disc in a bargain bin for 50 cents; Poledouris’ tracks would make an excellent addition to any collection CD. Ironically, even if every note of Poledouris’ music from both Free Willy albums, and the entirety of Cliff Eidelman’s Free Willy 3 were placed on a single CD, there would still be space left.
Ultimately, only buy Free Willy 2 if If you think ten minutes of outstanding Poledouris material are worth sifting an album padded with pop garbage. Hopefully, someday an enterprising label like Intrada or La La Land will give the music from these films the release they deserve.