Film Review: Feel Goodness of ‘Dolphin Tale’ Overcomes Clichés

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CHICAGO – In the tradition of live-action Disney films of another era, “Dolphin Tale” wears its heart on its sleeve, while at the same time using the characters as two-dimensional window dressing around a based-on-truth story of humans and an animal bonding together to inspire a nation. Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

The truth is real – a dolphin named Winter accidently loses her tail, and without it faces a handicap that could lead to her demise. Dolphin Tale creates a fiction around that fact and has a boy bond with the animal, leading the adults to help her regain momentum. The film’s strength lies in using the real dolphin to illustrate its own journey and what she represents to inspire humans who have lost their limbs. The weakness is trying to shoehorn a number of well-intentioned fictional roles around her, who don’t accentuate much about the truth, and follow character roadmaps that have been seen before.

Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) is a 12 year old boy who is a mechanical tinkerer but doesn’t have much time for school. Banished to a summer of make-up classes by his mother Lorraine (Ashley Judd), he laments his fate on the Florida beaches where he lives. His favorite cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) is also leaving for the army, and that pushes him deeper into his shell. Riding his bike one day, he comes upon a Dolphin who is caught in a crab trap, and helps to free it before the marine life rescue unit takes over.

That unit is led by Dr. Clay (Harry Connick Jr.), who runs an institution that rehabilitates sea creatures and releases them back to their environs. The dolphin, named Winter by Dr. Clay’s daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), isn’t given much of a chance – the doctor had to amputate her swimming tail. When Sawyer visits Winter, Dr. Clay notices their bonding, and puts the boy on the rehab team. Sawyer also gets an idea. Dr. Cameron (Morgan Freeman), is working at the Veteran’s Hospital fitting prosthetics onto lost-limbed veterans (cousin Kyle has come back injured and is in the doctor’s care), and Sawyer asks if he can do the same for Winter’s tail. The rest is how man helps animal, and animal helps man.

“Dolphin Tale” opens everywhere on September 23rd. See local listings for 3D showings. Featuring Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Frances Sternhagen and Morgan Freeman. Screenplay by Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi. Directed by Charles Martin Smith. Rated “PG-13”

StarContinue reading for Patrick McDonald’s full review of “Dolphin Tale”

Boy and His Dolphin: Nathan Gamble as Sawyer with Winter in ‘Dolphin Tale’
Boy and His Dolphin: Nathan Gamble as Sawyer with Winter in ‘Dolphin Tale’
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

StarContinue reading for Patrick McDonald’s full review of “Dolphin Tale”

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