Dolphin Tale Movie Review
Shy 11-year-old Sawyer (Gamble) struggles to relate to other kids, and now his revered swim-champ cousin (Stowell) is heading off to war just as summer begins. One day Sawyer helps rescue Winter, a dolphin entangled in a crab trap, and gets involved in her rehabilitation with Dr Clay (Connick) and his daughter Hazel (Zuehlsdorff). Sawyer's mother (Judd) reluctantly lets him skip summer-school to work at the aquarium, which is under threat from mounting bills. And Sawyer convinces a prosthetic expert (Freeman) to help the now tailless Winter regain her ability to swim.
If this weren't based on a true story, we would struggle to believe it. Indeed, several rather contrived plot points make it feel a bit fishy (sorry!), but at least the filmmakers resist having the single parents played by Judd and Connick fall happily in love. Actually, Winter's experience is the only authentic story thread, and director Smith does a great job capturing her personality as she deals with everything that comes along. This also lets us understand why she's such a icon for the disabled people who visit her.
It also helps that the cast is solid, with a superb sense of chemistry between Gamble and Winter, and enjoyably prickly edges to characters played by Judd, Connick, Freeman and Kristofferson (as Clay's dad). Not to mention a cheeky pelican that continually threatens to steal the show. But the sunny-corny filmmaking approach threatens to turn it into a maudlin weepie as everyone struggles to find themselves while facing their own adversities.
Smith directs this with a relaxed pace that captures some humour and emotion in every situation. The serious scenes are genuinely heart-wrenching or -warming, as required. And the underwater photography is gorgeous, even if the 3D is under-exploited. A less sentimental approach might have made this a better film, but kids will love the child's-eye-view perspective. And it's fairly impossible not to be inspired by Winter and her amazing journey.