Nonstop Movies: ‘Dolphin Tale’

I must be getting softer with age, and I don’t mean just around the belly. I never would have thought I could appreciate, let alone enjoy, a film about a boy and his beloved dolphin. When I was younger, I would’ve had to be dragged to the theater kicking and screaming to watch such a film. That, or have a cute date.

But recently, an opportunity to screen “Dolphin Tale” came up the same day I got a call from my 9-year-old niece, asking me to take her to this movie. So off to “Dolphin Tale” we went. Well, at least I had a cute date.

“Dolphin Tale” is based on a true story of an injured young dolphin, Winter, who gets her tail amputated after a serious injury, then learns to swim with a prosthetic one. The film features a young boy, Sawyer, who I believe isn’t part of the real story, but is introduced to appeal to children. In the film, Sawyer finds Winter on the beach and plays a key role in nursing her back to health, along with Dr. Clay (Harry Connick, Jr.), the local marine doctor. Winter initially adapts to losing her tail by learning to swim with a side-to-side motion, but that unnatural movement damages her spine. It’s then up to Dr. McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), who fashions human prosthetics, to create Winter a new tail.

Although the story is predictable, there’s no need for surprises if you buy into the relationship between Sawyer and Winter, and it’s almost impossible not to. Sawyer grows up fatherless (his father abandoned him and his mother (Ashley Judd) when he was young); no one likes him at school; and his only friend is his swimming champion cousin, who suffers a major injury while serving the military. When Sawyer finds Winter, he finally has someone he can trust and love unconditionally, and that relationship is touching, which is why the film works.

The supporting cast of Connick, Jr., Freeman, Judd, as well as Kris Kristofferson as Dr. Clay’s father, all give solid performances, and even Winter is played by the real Winter. My only problem with the film is not a gripe, but more of a question. In most movies where a young child befriends an animal, why does the child have to be a social outcast? Is it less interesting if a socially stable kid befriends an animal? One of these days, I’d like to see a Big Man on Campus take on a role like this, instead of playing the typical dumb jock.

Still, despite the stereotypes, “Dolphin Tale” is an enjoyable children’s film, capable of touching even this soft aging man.

“Dolphin Tale”, 113 minutes, is Rated PG and opens in theatres Friday.