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Dolphin Tale

MPAA Rating: PG-Rating (MPAA) for some mild thematic elements.

Reviewed by: Scott Brennan

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Kids Teens Family Adults
Family Drama 3D
1 hr. 56 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 23, 2011 (wide—3,200+ theaters)
DVD: December 20, 2011
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures

animals in the Bible



determination / don’t give up

prosthetic body part (prosthesis)

animal rescue shelter

Kid Explorers
Adventures in the rainforest! Learn about the Creator of the universe by exploring His marvelous creation. Fun for the whole family with games, activities, stories, answers to children’s questions, color pages, and more! One of the Web’s first and most popular Christian Web sites for children. Nonprofit, evangelical, nondenominational.
Featuring: Morgan FreemanDr. McCarthy
Ashley JuddLorraine Nelson
Kris KristoffersonReed Haskett
Harry Connick Jr.Dr. Clay Haskett
See all »
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Producer: Alcon Entertainment
Paradise F.X. Corp.
See all »
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

“inspired by the amazing true story of ‘Winter’”

Sequel: “Dolphin Tale 2” (2014)

A famous philosopher once said, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” While that may be debatable, the healing power of a boy’s love for a rescued dolphin is not. Even more so, if it’s based on a true life event. “Dolphin Tale” is that story.

This movie has something for everyone, and, for the first time in a long while, I can truly say as a reviewer, “This is a great family film!” I purposely planned to view the film with an early matinee audience—one that I knew would have plenty of children. I wanted to experience the film vicariously through their eyes as much as possible. [I haven’t seen that many kids in a theater since “Tangled.”] I was not disappointed. But what caused my eyes to well up even more than the many touching scenes throughout the film were the spontaneous comments and laughter coming from the kids in the audience. They were genuine responses out of love and admiration for the beauty of God’s creation, in this case, for “Winter” as she was named in the film or for their tender responses to the dangers that she faced throughout the story.

Passing up a handful of 6 or 7 year olds with their moms while exiting, I heard things like, “Winter is awesome,” “I almost cried when she didn’t like her new tail,” and “Dolphins are my new favorite animal.” Need I say more?

The story in short

Sawyer Nelson (newcomer Nathan Gamble), a 12 year old Florida boy who is kind of lost without a father active in his life, has a new summer of hardships to face right at the beginning of the film. First, his champion swimming cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) from across the street, who’s like a big brother to him, is leaving to join the army, even though he promises he’ll only be gone a little while. Also, Sawyer had a few failing grades during the past school year, so now his mom (Ashley Judd) says he has to go to summer school! This is a “double-whammy”, one that the already shy and withdrawn engineer-type “tween” would have had difficulty overcoming, had it not been for what I like to refer to as a “divine intervention.”

Therefore, his summer is quickly invaded by a situation much worse than his. Riding his bike on the way to summer school. he sees a dolphin washed ashore, entangled in ropes and a lobster cage, with a tail that is badly wounded. When Sawyer first sees Winter squirming there, snarled and alone, his extended gaze almost reveals his self-recognition of how his own life mirrors hers. Pulled into the ordeal by a holler from a fisherman, Sawyer reluctantly helps. But the bond is created, and Winter doesn’t forget who set her free. Thus, his summer journey begins.

The saga continues at a local marine center where there is, of course, an 11 year old girl, Hazel, (newcomer—Cozi Zuehlsdorff) daughter of the widow and marine biologist, Dr. Clay (Harry Connick Jr.), and his staff, all trying to assist Winter and nurse her to health. The story takes another sad but expected turn with the introduction of a hospital for returning veterans without limbs, but it’s there that we get to meet Dr. McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) [whose soothing voice alone makes every movie feel like it’s going to turn out alright] at a veteran’s hospital. Although this section of the film, seeing brief images of war veterans with artificial limbs, may be too much for very little ones, it does support the reality of the fallen state of man, and how war, like so many other bad things we see in our world, is the result of our lives without Christ. The climax of the film is formulaic and expected, but that fact didn’t subtract even a spec of the joy that surfaces in the final 15 minutes of the film.

Content for concern

There was one scene where the little girl, Hazel, prays to her mom (who died when she was young), which was, unfortunately, the only time any sort of prayer was acknowledged—and even that was not inferring God’s existence. Another semi-spiritual scene was when Dr. Clay shared a mythological story with Sawyer, carried by a certain Native American tribe, which explained how dolphins came to be. It was sort of innocent and more along the lines of the stork delivering babies, but one, like praying to a dead relative, that parents should address after viewing the film with their children.

On a positive note, there is no exaggerated feeling about “nature as god,” or we must save every living creature at the expense of humanity. Nor do the scientists promote evolution. In fact, one line in the film suggests the opposite, referring to the tail of the dolphin, “They are not designed to work that way.” That made me smile.

“So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” —Gen 1:21

As to profanity, there is none. Not a single “d” word. Amazing! I did write down, one “Oh my gosh,” and one “darn,” but it was along the lines of “Leave it to Beaver.”

Any violence would only be around the scenes with the rope and cage attached to Winter in the beginning…or (***spoiler alert***) when she was first rejecting the artificial tail (***end spoiler alert**) a spot where I heard some gasps from the little ones in the audience.

Nor is there the almost required drinking or proverbial pot smoking anywhere in sight, even among the teens or service men, proving that added realism isn’t necessary for every film, particularly when it does not add to the plot or character development.

And finally, there is no sex—not even a “pre-teen kiss” between Hazel and Sawyer—only a regular “high five.” There are, however, several scenes in the beginning of the film that show bare chested teen males at a swim meet, which is to be expected. There is another brief scene around a pool party that has some young people in swimming attire, but nothing too risqué.

Final thoughts

It wasn’t meant to be a film from a Christian world view, but it is definitely a family film. I would say for the entire family, with the exception of maybe under 7 or so. The cast is great, and the feelings generated throughout the film are positive. The Scripture running as a backdrop in my mind was “And we know that all things work together for good-to them that love God-and are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). As a Christian, I would use that Scripture to help explain any confusion that might come up for the little ones.

God designed the dolphin with what looks like a permanent smile on its face. That’s how I left the theater—with a great big smile.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—What a beautiful movie! I can’t wait to take my children to the movie. It’s all about family and faith! God Bless this movie and actor Jim Fitzpatrick (a Christian).
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Julienne Ford-hammond, age 28 (United Kingdom)
Positive—This movie is absolutely wonderful. I took my 3 children to this movie (11, 8 and 6). They loved it. Even my 6 year old!! My 11 year old said she shed a tear, as did I, but it was more of a happy/sad tear (if that makes sense). They have told everyone they have seen today (people we know, that is) about this movie.

As soon as we got home, they visited the Web site that it mentions in the movie. They have begged me to go to the Web site on my phone, several times today. I have actually recommended this movies to everyone I have seen and talked to. I will go see it again. I love it!

I think it is a great movie for Christian family or a non Christian family. I believe it shows love and kindness, and the movie portrays the way God would want us to be. Animals are his creatures, also, and if we can find love for his Creatures, surely we can find love and treat each other with kindness. I hope all that watch it, watch it with an open heart, and let the love these children show in this movie fill your soul and learn that we should all be like children the majority of the time. Have faith and hope and don’t always be negative. If we all loved and laughed as children, the world would be a much better place.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Tamara, age 32 (USA)
Positive—I took my two boys (4 and 7) to see this movie, and they both LOVED it! Even my youngest followed the storyline well. The two parts in the movie that were already mentioned by the reviewer—the mythological dolphin story and Hazel praying to her mom—were the only two parts of the movie that bothered me, and it was easy to address with my kids after the movie. There was also one pool party scene with lots of skin, but it was mostly males in swim trunks. There was only one time I noticed a female in a bikini, but it was (mostly) modest, having a bikini top and skirt bottom.

One of the main characters, Hazel, spends much of the movie in a swimsuit, but also wears swimsuit type shorts, which I thought was great/appropriate/modest. I also loved that Hazel was home schooled in the movie (we are householders), AND that Sawyer’s mom was insightful enough to see the difference in the education he was getting at summer school versus the animal hospital. I *highly* recommend this movie, and will probably take my kids to see it again. It’s a big deal for us to go see a movie that’s *not* in the dollar theater, much less seeing it twice!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Jen, age 34 (USA)
Positive—Wow, what an excellent film!! It manages to balance adventure, human interest, humour, beautiful nature shots with such skill. This is the best movie to come out in a long while. For once there are zilcho swears which includes uses of God’s name inappropriately. There are a few gosh moments, but I certainly don’t remember any d. Words as quoted above.

I’ve given this movie 5 stars for movie making. I think we have to be careful not to mark down movies in this genre just because they are family movies. I really question how anyone could possible rate it as a 3½ with the excellent filming of the hurricane and underwater shots, and superb acting.

The only thing that could be minimally offensive is when the girl talks to her mother who is in heaven… it seemed like praying, but let’s just say she was talking to her Mom and we’ll all feel better. Also, at least the movie was acknowledging life after death. To criticize it for this would be picky, because we need more outstanding films like this.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Kathy, age 51 (Canada)
Positive—Wholesome family movie. Refreshing that there were no questionable scenes with language or sexuality. Agree with the comment about Hazel praying to her mom, but other than that… great to have a safe movie to take my children to.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
Mindy, age 40 (USA)
Positive—I took 4 kids to see this movie. While my 4 yr old grew a bit restless, they did all really enjoy it. I did see the reviewer said there was no profanity. There was one use of dam*. It was in a song playing in the movie, “I’m Yours.” While I happen to love that song, I did think well, why didn’t they just pick up the song after the swear or just use a song with no swear.

The rest was great. I just hate to hear a swear in a family movie and even more so in a song, where it is truly not necessary. I figured I’d pass the info on just in case anyone else would be offended.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Andrea, age 39 (USA)
Positive—I went to see “Dolphin Tale” in 3D last night… I related a lot, to a lot of things in the movie, even some of the smaller things. I related with Sawyer’s situation living in a single-parent household for one. Seeing the amount of compassion and mercy between Sawyer and Winter and several other signs of compassion and mercy between other characters. The most inspiring thing about the movie is Winter’s determination to survive, despite some devastating things. I can relate with that to biblical principles of how a child of God should have determination to keep on pushing through to finish the race, no matter what happens.

There are just so many things that will make us want to give up, but Winter did not give up when she lost her tail. We may lose our metaphorical dolphin tails, but we can find a way to keep on swimming, even if it’s a struggle. (I like to use imagery to emphasize my points.) I will be honest and say that I cried quite a few times during the movie as a 23 year old man. This movie is so filled with heart-touching moments, I can’t wait until it comes out on DVD!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: none
Alex, age 23 (USA)
Positive—Totally entertaining from beginning to end. It was so refreshing to see a movie both heartwarming, and well acted out by all the performers. Went with several people and they all loved it. Thank you, wish there was more like this.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Dottie, age 68 (USA)
Positive—“Dolphin Tale” is a truly inspirational family friendly movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it’s a must see!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Darlene, age 51 (USA)
Positive—I went to see this movie with a group of kids, and they all loved it. It was an excellent movie for kids. I even laughed at some parts. So, overall, we all enjoyed this great movie. I highly suggest it to people who want to take their kids to a clean, nice and funny movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Sara, age 49 (USA)
Positive—I was very happy my daughter (age 14) and I took time today to see this movie. I think they did a great job showing the story line from the main character’s perspective (Sawyer, age 12). It’s easy to feel things right along with him, as you watch the movie.

The moviemaking quality was very good, especially the many underwater shots and atmospheric lighting. I appreciated the importance placed on being part of a family and sticking together, especially when one is hurting. The value of developing good friendships and showing consideration for others was carried throughout the film. It was also nice to see a Mom recognize the importance of letting her son pursue his interests and learn valuable lessons outside a classroom.

Left the movie with renewed appreciation for the strength God gives both humans and animals to overcome physical limitations and wonder at the beautiful, gentle dolphins God created.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Stephanie, age 50 (USA)
Positive—There is one cuss word I have heard. D__n is said during the song “I Am Yours”.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Brent, age 33 (USA)
Positive—Just one comment. There IS one curse word in the movie during one of the songs. The song “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz featured in the film uses the word d*mn. Just thought that should be pointed out. It is the ONLY word otherwise. GREAT MOVIE
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Melissa Thompson, age 34 (USA)
Neutral—This was a nice, sweet movie for the kids. Personally, I found myself getting a little bored; halfway through, Morgan Freeman’s character was the only thing keeping me interested. All of the children in the audience seemed to love it, though.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Kadie Jo, age 19 (USA)


Comments from young people
Positive—“Dolphin Tales” was such a refreshing and excellent movie to see with my friends and entire family. We have been very excited about it for some time, so it was only natural that we had to see it the very first day. There are not very many completely family-friendly movies these days, so when one comes out it is something we support! Everyone enjoyed it, especially my four-year-old sister and her three-year-old friend.

The movie has so many positive things to list, but let me just point out a few. Something that really made me happy was how the movie supported homeschooling. Both of the main kids in the movie are homeschooled in real life and the girl, Hazel, is even homeschooled in the movie. She even states, “I’m homeschooled, that’s why I am such a chatterbox.” The movie showed that homeschoolers are definitely not unsocialized, but the exact opposite.

It also promoted how a “love of learning” is important, when Sawyer discovers a passion and enthusiastically relates his newfound knowledge to his mother. This movie also highlights the importance of family and puts an emphasis on the fact that “family is forever”.

I think the writers of this film did a really great job with writing a creative story to fit the already interesting plot of the true story of Winter. The film quality was amazing, and I loved the scenes of Winter swimming with Sawyer. The cast was awesome and the setting of Clearwater, Florida was neat (since that is where my parents grew up). I, being a person who already loved dolphins, now loves them even more! Winter’s story is absolutely touching, and I believe that this is a “must see” for all families!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Emily, age 16 (USA)
Positive—I really enjoyed this movie. It was clean and refreshing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
Katie, age 15 (USA)
Positive—Funny, tear-jerking, inspirational, super clean entertainment… Well done, HollyWood!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Emshemie, age 13 (USA)
Positive—I think this was a great movie. My little cousins love watching it, and it did not have any swearing in. My cousins relate to it very easily, and every time they come over to my house they want to watch it. I love the movie and think the person who created this movie did an excellent job.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Kimberly, age 17 (USA)
Positive—WOW!!! This is an awesome movie!! There is NO swearing and no kissing or anything that would be offensive. They just stayed to the story about the dolphin, which is awesome. This movie is very touching. I enjoyed it so much. I would rate this movie a big 10! Go see it. What are you waiting for?
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Meaghan, age 13 (USA)

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