Cast: Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Ray McKinnon
Fordham University, ‘12
“A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally.” – Oscar Wilde
Review By: Daniel Reynolds
Hollywood loves stories about children making friends with sea mammals. Here’s the latest installment, Dolphin Tale, a heartwarming, sometimes hokey, but serviceable family film about a young boy’s fight to save an injured dolphin.
The meat and potatoes (fish and chips?) of the film is centered on the boy-mammal relationship, which begins when eleven-year-old Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) discovers his dolphin friend-to-be tangled in a crab trap on the beach. Nelson cuts the badly injured creature free and an emergency squad transports her to the nearby Clearwater Marine Hospital, where Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.), his staff, and his spunky, also-eleven-year-old daughter, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) administer care to sickly sea creatures. At first, all seems lost for Winter, the name they give the poor dolphin, who is unresponsive to their tending. But Winter’s energy returns when Sawyer comes to visit, and the boy decides to volunteer at the hospital until his bottle-nosed friend gets better.
The turn of the screw strikes when Winter develops an infection in her tail, and the doctor is forced to amputate. For most dolphins, this means a trip to the tuna factory. But miraculously, Winter finds a way to swim by swinging her body back and forth. Hooray! Don’t touch that dial, though. This solution can only be temporary, Dr. Harry Connick, Jr. explains, because prolonged horizontal movement is unnatural to a dolphin’s body, and could permanently damage the spinal cord.
So now what? Deus ex Morgan Freeman, that’s what. The Bucket List star plays Dr. Cameron McCarthy, an eccentric maker of prosthetic limbs at a VA hospital. Young Sawyer meets Dr. McCarthy while visiting his cousin (Austin Stowell), a wounded veteran and former swimming superstar, who is struggling to regain use of an injured leg. (Yes, they went there.) He convinces the doctor to attempt a design of a prosthetic dolphin tail and, well, let the tears and montages roll.
Typical of children’s movies, the adults are clueless about solving problems. So it’s up to Sawyer and Hazel to save Winter and (because we’re in a recession) the debt-ridden marine hospital from going out of business. Oh, there’s also a few other stock characters: Kris Kristofferson plays a wise and grizzled sailor/grandfather, and Ashley Judd treads water as Sawyer’s single mom, whose role is to act astonished at her formerly apathetic son’s newfound passion, and to drive him different places (Connick plays a widower, so this seemed a missed romantic opportunity). There’s also a mischievous pelican that provides some great comic relief. But the dolphin, of course, steals the show, and viewers of all ages may find themselves reaching for the tissues at the film’s heartfelt, if predictable, conclusion.
While this script could have been easy fodder for a Lifetime movie, a stellar cast raises Dolphin Tale
This scene, shot with a digital 3D camera in the waters off the Cayman Islands, is visually spectacular in Blu-ray: schools of brightly-colored fish dart between reefs as bright, shimmering sunlight trickles overhead. With Dolphin Tale’s 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer, Winter seems poised to swim right into the living room. Though a slight saturation gives characters’ skin a bronze hue, the details are sharp throughout, and even grains of sand stand out. Meanwhile, the film’s sound is at its best in outdoor scenes, particularly by the ocean: waves crash on the beach, a gull cries out, and a dolphin spouts air from its blowhole. Overall, nothing phenomenal, but nothing distracting either, which suits this particular tale just fine.
While the more cultured moviegoers may roll their eyes at Dolphin Tale’s bromides, children will most certainly be charmed. And despite initial reservations, this adult ended up shedding a tear or two for the little dolphin who could.