Big Miracle

Drew Barrymore stars in "Big Miracle," a film about the rescue of a family of gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle. 

Universal Pictures

This is, well, huge.

This "little story," which occurred in 1988, is made all the more real by clips of real film footage and real TV newscasts from that era. "Big Miracle" refers, of course, to the immensity of the story and the size of its main players - namely three whales.

It's a cinematic miracle in another way, too. It's rated PG, which is a rare find, and it's even rarer to discover that its smart script, played out by a talented cast, never dumbs itself down to body-function humor. You might leave the theater saying, "I didn't know they made movies like that anymore."

Part-comedy, part-drama and all heart, "Big Miracle" begins in 1988 when NBC gave national play to a story about three California gray whales that became trapped in some ice near Point Barrow, Alaska. Here, Nathan, an 11-year-old resident of Barrow (played charmingly by Ahmaogak Sweeney) narrates the story.

Nathan has become friends with a TV journalist named Adam (John Krasinski, television's "The Office"), who has been dispatched to the village to provide several stories about the tiny spot where a local oil magnate (Ted Danson) wants to begin drilling. In one last, and very lame, story, Adam humors Nathan by focusing on his friend's snowmobiling talents, which don't amount to much.

In the background, Adam sees something in the ice and then discovers it's a family of trapped whales who become known as Wilma, Fred and Bamm-Bamm. (Pebbles, you may remember, was the daughter of the Flintstones, but the youngest whale was male - hence the name of the son of their neighbors the Rubbles.)

Many people oppose the drilling. Among the most vocal is environmental activist Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), who was once Adam's girlfriend. Soon, a Los Angeles reporter (Kristen Bell) has caught the eye of Adam, who goes out of his way to assist her.

Local hunters decide to "harvest" the whales. After all, the creatures will provide them with meat. But they then decide, in light of the ever-expanding publicity, to join the rescuers, who mingle with the multitude of reporters who have arrived in the village. America watches as the whales survive with some assistance, although Bamm-Bamm appears to be ailing.

It's funny, it's sweet and its broad appeal make this a "big movie" that's understandably making quite a splash.