DIRECTED BY: Charles Martin Smith
WRITTEN BY: Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi
STARRING: Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Harry Connick Jr, Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman,
RATING: 4 stars
I'm warning you from the start – you need to bring tissues if you're going to see Dolphin Tale. This film is basically Free Willy with a dolphin; it's cute, it's sentimental, it's sad, it's uplifting and it's certainly corny at times. Dolphin Tale is pretty much everything you want a family summer film to be. It also has a great moral to the story that is sure to teach children a valuable lesson about acceptance and overcoming adversity.
Inspired by a true story, Dolphin Tale is about a young boy named Nelson (Nathan Gamble) who is a loner, struggling in school and has only his older cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) in the army to look up to as a male role model. One day, a fisherman and Nelson find a bottle nose dolphin named Winter washed up on the beach, stuck in a crab trap that has crippled her tail. Nelson and Winter strike up an immediate bond and soon Nelson is helping Winter with her rehabilitation at a marine hospital, led by Dr Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr) and his daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff). To save Winter's life, Nelson seeks the help of eccentric prosthetics doctor Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) to create a new tail for Winter.
The 3D effects add a nice touch to this film, mostly due to the playful way the effects are used with the dolphins. The acting is nothing mind-blowing but everyone gives a solid performance, including Ashley Judd as Nelson's mother and Kris Kristofferson as Hazel's grandfather. The stronger performances come from the lead actors – the children – Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who are raw and emotional. But the real star of the film is, of course, Winter the dolphin. If you don't fall in love with this animal, you have no soul.
My main criticism of the film is its length, which is about one hour and 45 minutes. It packs in a lot of details and sub-plots, such as Kyle's war sub-plot and the possibility for the marine hospital closing down, which both tie in quite nicely as a juxtaposition of what's happening in the main storyline with Winter. The problem is, because the film is trying to pull at your heart strings on so many levels with each sub-plot, it takes time to build that emotional connection with the story and the characters. Unfortunately, it takes a little too long. For a family film where children are supposed to sit still for an extended period of time, it really should have been about 15 minutes shorter.
Nonetheless, with so many animation films coming up over the summer for children, it's nice to see an inspiring and adorable family film with real people and one of the cutest animals in the world. If you have children prone to nagging you about being bored over the holidays, take them to see Dolphin Tale – you'll all enjoy it. Just remember those tissues!