Free Willy is an American/Canadian animated television series, inspired by the 1993 film of the same name.
This television series was produced by Warner Bros. Television, Regency Enterprises and the Canadian company Nelvana for Warner Bros. Studios. The show, which aired for one season (1994) on American Broadcasting Company (ABC), continues the adventures of the orca Willy and Jesse, the boy who freed him from captivity as shown in the film. In retrospect, the series also anticipates multiple plot elements of the film sequel, Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home, released the following summer. The overarching conflict is reminiscent of Moby-Dick: a powerful oil baron, known to the main characters only as a cyborg called "The Machine" until the final episodes, loses his arm and part of his face to Willy while committing an environmental atrocity and wants revenge upon "that rotten whale... and his boy".
Jesse, age 14, has been adopted by his foster parents, the Greenwoods, and they have moved from Seattle to the Pacific coast. He is given a job at the Misty Island Oceanic Reserve, a local wildlife rescue and research institute where Randolph, his Native American mentor from the movie, now works. In the first episode, Jesse discovers he has the ability to talk to animals and understand their speech; Randolph, a Haida, explains that he is a Truth Talker. This revelation allows for Willy and the other sea creatures featured in the show to have full personalities and more prominent roles in key plot events. Jesse and Randolph work with Mr. Naugle, the head biologist, and Marlene, a research assistant, who are studying Einstein, a dolphin, and Lucille, a seal, teaching them behavioral communication with normal humans.
The main villain of the series, similar in personality to Captain Ahab, is a cyborg called "The Machine" who holds Willy responsible for his loss of an arm and part of his face. It was initially implied that Willy had bitten them off, but a flashback revealed that his submarine was destroyed upon encountering Willy, hurling him into another ship's screw propeller. His appearance recalls Locutus of Borg and the Phantom of the Opera. When not using his new submarine to create environmental havoc, he dons a mask and glove (perhaps a nod to the contributions of Michael Jackson to the films) for disguise and continues to run an oil company under his former identity, Rockland Stone.
Early in the series, The Machine jettisons his ship's skipper, a rather nervous fellow by the name of Captain Frye, revealing he has created, à la Frankenstein, four green, slimy, synthetic henchmen called Amphonids from inanimate toxic waste. They mainly function as comic relief, oddly reluctant to carry out instructions to pollute and destroy the environment, preferring to slouch around and entertain themselves, and often making costly and catastrophic errors for The Machine.
Throughout the series, Jesse is constantly fighting plots and schemes hatched by The Machine to destroy Willy, such as releasing deadly parasites and creating genetically modified giant squid predatory to orca, and to despoil the ecosystem, such as wanton spilling of garbage, toxic waste and oil into the sea. Meanwhile, he attempts to influence the ostensibly reasonable industrialist Mr. Stone to adopt environmentally friendly industrial practices through his publicist, P.R. Frickey.
While the first half of the show centers mostly around Willy and Jesse's adventures at the Misty Island Oceanic Reserve, the second half takes them to the Arctic with eco-activist Ben Shore. They discover an untouched paradise island with various healthful benefits ("Paradise Found") and are greeted by Arktos, a bear who claims Jesse is the "protector" of the island, and other talking animals. Unfortunately, The Machine follows and attempts to industrialize the island, destroying its natural beauty and benefit to the ecosystem. Ben heroically demolishes the passageway to the island after Jesse and Willy escape, thwarting The Machine, but injuring and trapping himself. However, the healing effects of the island restore Ben's health and he lives happily in his environmental utopia, having given Jesse a carved eagle necklace as a keepsake to carry on his work. Ben also recovers from the missile from the Machine he took to save Jesse and Willy. Upon returning to Misty Island, Jesse and Willy become entwined in a Christmastime plot ("Yuletide or Redtide") to use a biodegradable jetski (assumed to be a gift from his parents, Glen and Annie, but actually from Stone) for the release of deadly red tide to thrive in the unseasonably warm water, implied to be an effect of global warming. Unchecked, the microbes would simultaneously destroy Willy, the ecosystem and Jesse's reputation. When The Machine is defeated by teamwork and a sudden cold spell, saving everyone's good cheer, the Amphonids make themselves into a distorted Christmas tree and actually sing along with the townspeople, to their master's chagrin.
Toward the end of the series, Jesse, Willy and Annie finally realize that Rockland Stone is The Machine and proceed to turn his attempts to manipulate Jesse to their advantage. Specifically, in the second to last episode, The Machine kidnaps Marlene's old teacher, the balding chemist Dr. Elliot, and plots to combine his oil solidification formula with a massive intentional spill to suffocate Willy and his friends under a solid orange crust. When he brazenly impersonates Elliot (using a different mask) to influence Marlene into giving Stone Industries one million dollars from Institute funds, Jesse's knowledge allows himself and Willy to see through the disguise, save Dr. Elliot, prevent the fraudulent donation and stop the oil with the formula. In the series finale ("Ghost Ship"), the heroes finally unmask The Machine before the public, bringing him to justice and freeing Willy, the other sea creatures, the people of Misty Island and the environment at large from his reign of terror.