Friday, September 23, 2011

Surprise! Dolphin Tale is actually good!

MOVIE REVIEWSo, let’s just cut to the chase. I didn’t have my hopes set high with Dolphin Tale. The story sounded intriguing enough, but trailer looked trite. What a surprise. Not that the film doesn’t have its flaws, it does, but it is a solid family movie.

While not completely based on a true story, Dolphin Tale is inspired by one. The dolphin’s story is true, the human characters’ stories are not. The blending of fact and fiction actually melds into an engaging story. It is sort of like Lassie in fish form.

Kyle (Austin Stowell) is a award-wining swimmer with his sights on the Olympics. Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) is his cousin and biggest fan. But first, Kyle needs to join the service to earn the money he needs for professional training. Sawyer is sad with his cousin’s leaving and the fact that he has to spend his summer at summer school. While walking by the beach, Sawyer spots a young dolphin tangled and stuck in a crab trap and helps to release her. Later, Sawyer decides to check in on the dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and forms an instant bond with Winter, (the name given to the mammal)  as well as Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), the daughter of the aquarium’s leading vet, Clay (Harry Connick Jr.)

Clay sees the value of the boy/dolphin connection and encourages to the boy to visit her often while they treat her injured trail. Unfortunately, the tail needs to be amputated and the fate of the Winter is quesionable at best. Meanwhile, Kyle is injured in service and is sent back home in a wheelchair. His physical therapist is Dr, McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) who likes a challenge. Sawyer talks McCarthy into creating a prosthetic appendage to replace the dolphin’s tale. The rest is history.


The film starts out a little rocky. Stowell is good looking, happy and the BEST cousin EVER to little Sawyer. Zuehlsdorff is engaging as Hazel, but says almost every line with a smile that shows every one of her teeth. Gamble is the polar opposite with a sad sack personality. It’s all a little too perfect to be believeable, but the story improves quite rapidly.

Harry Connick Jr. wouldn’t have been my first choice for this story, but he does surprisingly well with the role and Ashley Judd as Sawyer’s mother doesn’t disappoint either. Morgan is featured promintely in the trailer and is always a pleasure to watch, but is only in the second half of the movie. But the film really relies on the strength of child actors and their interactions with the real Winter, playing herself. (Footage of the actual events is shown at the end of the film and you see just how tiny Winter was when the event happened.)

Despite already knowing the ending, the movie effectively creates tension but it all wraps up neatly at the end. This isn’t Oscar bait, but a movie parents will be happy to take their children to as it features no language, sex or violence. Although there is some dolphin nudity.

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