Whale Rider, set on the coast of New Zealand, depicts Maori patriarchal tradition as it collides and coexists with women's roles in a vibrant new millennium. Despite the discouragement of her gruff and disapproving grandfather (Rawiri Paratene), the village chief, who nearly disowns her because she is female and therefore disqualified from tribal leadership by tradition, 12-year-old Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is convinced that she is a tribal leader, and sets about to prove it. From a novel by Witi Ihimaera, writer-director Niki Caro develops real and turbulent family relationships, intimate and yet torn between stubborn tradition and changing attitudes. The mythic whale rider--the ultimate symbol of Maori connection to nature--is also the harbinger of Pai's destiny, and the appealing Castle-Hughes gives a luminous, astonishingly powerful performance that won't leave a dry eye in the house. With its fresh take on a familiar tale, Whale Rider is one from the heart.
-- Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com Editorial Reviews