Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
|Featuring:||Morgan Freeman … Dr. McCarthy
Ashley Judd … Lorraine Nelson
Kris Kristofferson … Reed Haskett
Harry Connick Jr. … Dr. Clay Haskett
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|Director:||Charles Martin Smith|
Paradise F.X. Corp.
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|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?
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 This is a “double-whammy”, one that the already shy and withdrawn engineer-type “tween” would have had difficulty overcoming, had it not been for what I like to refer to as a “divine intervention.”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.
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.
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.