The Alaskan wilderness is on spectacular display in RUNNING FREE, a family drama and travelogue foregrounding the plight of the embattled wolverine--"the legendary devil-bear of the North." Alternating between a bare-bones narrative and the breathtaking helicopter photography of its
far-North icescapes, the film aims for the family audience, but ventures too little in the way of character development to engage the viewer.
Garrett (Jesse Montgomery Smith) is a sullen youth who accompanies his naturalist mother Carrie (Jamie Lee Misfeldt) into the Alaskan wilderness to study the migration habits of eagles. Garrett is introduced to One-Paw the wolverine when it becomes trapped in their cabin, escaping only after it
has started a fire by upending a kerosene lantern. When Carrie must catch a flight out for much-needed provisions, Garrett must stay behind with Burk (Michael Pena), their Native American caretaker. Exploring the tundra, he gets lost, only to be led back to the borders of civilization by One-Paw,
with whom he develops a rare friendship.
Much of the body of the film is taken up with obligatory scenes of the wolverine easily eluding a bear, thieving from animal traps, and generally making itself unpopular with those who make their living in the wild. Finally, Carl (Michael Hood), one of the burly bush pilots at the local tavern,
decides that a free-range wolverine represents a potential profit, and after several abortive tries, drops One-Paw with a tranquilizer dart. The animal escapes by gnawing through his cage, just seconds before engineering a spectacular flaming plane crash. Carl begins to hunt One-Paw from a
helicopter with a rifle and explosives. Little One-Paw apparently ends up bleeding to death in the snow. The explosions alert the local police, who haul Carl away for poaching and aerial hunting. In a final twist, the wounded wolverine turns out to have been a different animal, and One-Paw returns
to his happy home.
Responsibility for this outing clearly belongs to Steve Kroschel, who takes writer, director, producer, and cinematography credits. Once Kroschel's weak story line recedes, RUNNING FREE becomes indistinguishable from a television nature special, with a buoyant voice-over giving us endless
snippets of wolverine lore. A major compensation, however, is the dazzling Alaskan scenery, a stark contrast with the phony Alaska of television's "Northern Exposure," which is filmed a thousand-odd miles to the south in Washington state. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: The Alaskan wilderness is on spectacular display in RUNNING FREE, a family drama and travelogue foregrounding the plight of the embattled wolverine--"the legendary devil-bear of the North." Alternating between a bare-bones narrative and the breathtaking he… (more)