It's not exactly surprising that "Big Miracle," saddled with an arch, generic title and directed by a filmmaker who gets no respect from the critics, was virtually invisible the day it opened. No one seemed to care.
But wait! This is a solid little movie - defiantly old-fashioned in a 1950s way and impressively untrendy - and it boasts an ace case which seems committed to the film's very transparent appreciation of animal activism.
The aforementioned filmmaker is Ken Kwapis, who made his "mark" (well, sort of) with the lost 1988 Cindi Lauper-Jeff Goldblum vehicle, "Vibes," co-directed the clever (and popular) "He Said, She Said" (1991) with Marisa Silver and has pretty much operated for the last decade or so as a house director without a house (read: a studio). Kwapis seems to operate under the radar, despite his handling of the 'tween hit, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" (2005), and "He's Just Not That Into You" (2009).
With the latter and "Big Miracle," Kwapis has worked Robert Altman conventions (huge casts, multiple storylines) into mall movies and, frankly, I've found his efforts both effective and rather appealing.
"Big Miracle" is inspired by the real-life 1988 situation that found a family of gray whales (mother, father and baby boy) stranded and trapped under the thick ice in the Arctic Circle and by the efforts of the several diverse groups who worked selflessly in tandem to free them.
It's material that Disney normally would have tackled in '88 but, for some inexplicable reason, didn't.
I'm a sucker for such stories and making this one even more irresistible and companionable is the attractive cast: A warm John Krasinski as a struggling TV journalist stationed in Alaska and an impressively authentic Drew Barrymore as a driven Greenpeacer (and Krasinski's former main squeeze), plus Kristin Bell (as another journalist), Ted Danson, Tim Blake Nelson, Vinessa Shaw, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Baker, Stephen Root, John Michael Higgins, Gregory Jbara, James LeGross, Rob Riggle, Bruce Altman, Quinn Redeker and (in archival footage) someone named Sarah Heath. Also the film casts several Inupiat natives, most notably John Pingayak and the gifted child actor, Ahmaogak Sweeney, in central roles.
Everyone is credible, which I think says a lot about Kwapis as a director of actors. And I suppose that the fact that he was able to attract impressive casts for both "Big Miracle" and "He's Just Not That Into You" says a lot about him as a human being. Actors obviously like him.