It's a wonderful thing, albeit rare, when Hollywood decides to make a movie that takes a real life event and turns it into 113 minutes of entertainment for the whole family. Knowing ahead of time how much my daughter and I both love dolphins, and how much of a sucker I am for a "makes you cry-but in a GOOD way" type of film, I had high hopes for this one. Let me tell you what they got right — and where they should have stepped away.
THE GOOD: The movie is based on a true story of 'Winter', a young dolphin who becomes tangled in a fishing net, causing irreversible damage to her tail. On his way to school, Sawyer (played by Nathan Gamble) sees her stranded on the shore and with his help, frees her from the roads and assists with the local marine hospital in coming to her rescue. Sawyer is a shy and directionless kid whose father has run off, and Sawyer's mom Lorraine (Ashley Judd) is the single mom trying to make ends meet and feeling helpless that her son seems to be floundering. But when Sawyer's involvement with this Dolphin rescue comes to light, she begins to notice something in her son that she had given up hope of ever seeing — happiness and purpose.
Of course we all know that dolphin's would be hard pressed to swim without their tails, and since Winter's tail has to be surgically removed due to the damage, this leaves the main storyline in full focus — how to build a prosthetic tail for a Dolphin. To the rescue is Dr. Cameron McCarthy (played by Morgan Freeman) who is gainfully employed at a Veteran's hospital making artificial limbs for wounded soldiers, but is soon convinces by young Sawyer that Winter needs a second chance at life as well. The complications of making a tail that Winter will not reject, along with the impending doom of the faltering marine hospital which is in overwhelming debt, being the likelihood of being bought by a multimillionaire looking to tear it down to build a hotel — All combine to present massive obstacles. You feel frustrated at the failed attempts and silently cheer for the light which begins to appear at the proverbial end of the tunnel. Coupled with a sweet, if somewhat over the top, performance from newcomer Cozi Zuehlsdorff who plays Sawyer's young friend Hazel and the daughter of Dr. Clay Haskell (played by Harry Connick Jr.), the marine biologist who is fighting to keep Winter alive-and his hospital in the black — the film is charming and teaching a nice lesson about overcoming difficulties in our lives, and not being Afraid to give something your all, even if the odds are against you. There is also a weird seagull named Roofus that follows people around and adds some comical relief … do not be surprised if that is one of the main things your kids remember about the movie. But it is Winter (played by Winter herself) that steals the show. If you do not have a soft spot in your heart for dolphins, I just can not help you-you've somehow been born without a sensitive side. I'm a dog lover at heart, but if there was a way to have a dolphin lounge on the couch with my basset hound, I would adopt one in a heartbeat.
THE BAD: As previously mentioned, I enjoy a good cathartic cry, and I fully expected to shed some tears during this movie. The problem I found was that the filmmakers seemed to try just a little TOO hard to rip those tears out of you …. and it felt forced. Yes, there were a few moments where I felt genuinely misty, but for the majority of the time, it seemed as though every line and every element of the story was being calculated to push you to whimper a little. In this particular case, less is more ….. and I think some of the side storylines were added just to evoke even more emotion (Sawyer's dad being a deadbeat, Sawyer's cousin going off to war, Sawyer's classmates not liking him, ad Nauseum). Maybe it was because they did not think they had enough material to make a full length movie out of the story itself, or making them just thought that it just was not a real movie about a dolphin unless people were sobbing in the aisles- –in either case, they were mistaken. Another missstep was also the fact that, despite the talented actors they had on board, no one, with the exception of maybe Morgan Freeman, cave a great performance. The acting was bordering on cheesy, and felt almost as if you were watching a made for tv afterschool special. That being said, my 9 year old daughter loved it and never once turned to me and said "I wish the characters would more fully develop their personas and give me something I could USE!" Kids are funny like that …. give them a cute dolphin, a weird bird and a box of candy, and it's pretty much the best night of their lives.
THE UGLY: I noted earlier that one of the obstacles in the story featured a multimillionaire (played by Tom Nowicki) looking to purchase the failing hospital and the land it sits on, in order to build a luxury hotel. When he finally shows his face, I'm pretty sure my mouth fell open as I thought to myself "This is the guy they picked to play a rich real estate tycoon ?! " I'm sure I missed the point of the whole storyline, but really. They have people that can fix that for you. Take one less luxury cruise to the Mediterranean, and make an appointment.
Dolphin Tale is a sweet family movie that kids will enjoy and parents, at the very least, will not regret going to. Do not waste your time and money seeing it in 3D …. it's my opinion that there were not enough moments during the film where 3D would have made that much of an impact. DO however, stay for the last 5 minutes or so, where actual film footage of Winter's rescue and rehabilitation is shown — for me, that was where the actual tears happened as I watched children and adults with missing limbs spending time with Winter and Being inspired by her will to overcome.
The trophy wife gives this movie 3 trophies.
Dolphin Tale is rated PG for some thematic elements.