Review: Dolphin Tale
PLOT: Sawyer Nelson is a young boy that has lost his way. He is failing school, he has no friends and his mother has no idea how to help. Yet when he discovers an injured dolphin on the beach, he soon learns the importance of family, friendship and the belief that you can overcome the obstacles in your life.
Sometimes it is refreshing to see a movie with a ton of heart geared toward families. It seems to be unusual that a “family film” these days won’t pander to the general audience with fart jokes and such. After all, when you start with the crude – even if it mostly harmless – you can get an easy laugh. However a film like DOLPHIN TALE is exactly what it promises to be - a modern day FREE WILLY that will tug at your heartstrings. This is a sweet story that promotes hope, friendship and the ability to take on more than you ever thought you could.
The tale begins with a young man named Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble). He is from a broken home with a mother who tries her best (Ashley Judd) yet can’t seem to motivate him. Sawyer is lost and alone as he locks himself away from those that care for him. Even his favorite cousin (Austen Stowell) is heading off to fight for his country leaving the boy terrified that he won’t be coming home. The boy is failing school and he has no friends yet his life is about to change thanks to an injured dolphin he discovers on the beach.
The mammal is shortly after rescued and taken to the Clearwater Marine Hospital. It is there that they attempt to save the animal from a certain fate, only to find that his tail needs to be removed. Soon, Sawyer is drawn to the hospital and befriends Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) and his chatty daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) who are doing all they can to help the wounded dolphin. Yet their best doesn’t seem to be enough thanks to the damage already done. Now if you have a tough time getting through an injured animal flick than you’d better bring a couple boxes of tissue. Heartbreaking times are ahead.
There is a wonderful spirit throughout this dolphin’s adventure, especially when it comes to those that are faced with adversity. The idea that you can do anything you set your mind to is an important lesson to learn no matter how young or old you may be. Even more touching is the fact that this is a true story about a dolphin named Winter who lost her tail. In order for her to stay alive, a prosthetic tail piece was created so she could swim again. The most touching aspect of the film is that Winter is played by herself – her story is miraculous - and she certainly makes it damn hard not to root for her.
While you can fault a DOLPHIN TALE for being much too sentimental and downright saccharine sweet at times, it is hard to resist. Young Nathan Gamble is a likeable lead. His relationship with Winter is genuine and beautiful. It’s hard to imagine a child not finding themselves in awe next to a creature such as this. Thankfully, director Charles Martin Smith captures this special relationship and focuses on the emotional journey of Sawyer and how much Winter changes his own life. It was also nice to see both Gamble and Zuehlsdorff shine in their roles. The wide-eyed wonder they both share with this amazing animal is truly special.
While a DOLPHIN TALE is delightfully told, sometimes the sappiness gets a little hard to take. And some early use of CGI is a true disservice to the film, yet it all works in spite of its weakness. The cast is strong, including the great Morgan Freeman doing what he does best, making you feel safe and secure because you know that Mr. Freeman can make everything better. The charms of this family fable are irresistible. As tough as you are, you’ll be tearing up when you see how desperately they fight for Winter’s life. This is the perfect end of summer event for the whole family. DOLPHIN TALE will be presented in 3D and 2D. The screening I saw was in 2D so I cannot comment on how good or bad the 3D was.