Loosely based on Thomas Rose's 1989 "Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World's Greatest Non-Event" about the real-life, Reagan-era rescue that riveted the nation's attention onto the tiny town of Barrow, Alaska, this family-friendly, feel-good story revolves around the plight of three gray whales trapped under a thickening slab of ice in the Beaufort Sea.

As told by a young Inuit boy, Nathan (Ahmagok Sweeney), it all begins when he and local TV newscaster Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) spot their predicament. Adam's heartfelt reports about the ever-shrinking hole that provides the marine mammals their only oxygen supply propel his ex-girlfriend, outspoken Greenpeace organizer Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), to rush to the Arctic Circle. When anchorman Tom Brokaw utilizes Adam's video footage on "NBC Nightly News", it immediately ignites the avid interest from environmental and animal activists.

But not everyone, including Alaska's Governor who activates the National Guard, is motivated by altruism. Indeed, it's primarily the socio-political ramifications that propel a cynical oil-drilling entrepreneur J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson) to offer to lend his hover barge and catch the attention of Kelly Meyers (Vinessa Shaw) at the Reagan White House. Even Nathan's grandfather Malik (John Pingayak), an influential tribal elder, realizes that killing the whales for their meat would not serve the Inupiat people in the long run. So for a myriad of reasons, Operation Breakthrough becomes an international effort after President Reagan calls Mikhail Gorbachev for `ice breaking' aid from the Soviet Navy.

Scripted by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler and directed by Ken Kwapis ("He's Just Not That Into You," "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants"), the momentum is propelled by John Bailey's cinematography and New Zealand special-effects artists Justin Buckingham and Mike Latham, whose animatronics bring the majestic mammals to life, much to the delight of Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski whose romance provides an amiable subplot.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Big Miracle" is an inspirational 8 -- and wait for the closing credits which include a glimpse of young Sarah Palin as an Anchorage sportscaster.

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