Sit your kids down in front of Flipper, and they may not know what hit them. This Kennedy-era classic has everything today's overstimulated rugrats never get to see anymore: real kids, real parents, and real animals having exciting adventures in a beautiful and interesting setting.
The story couldn't be simpler: Boy meets dolphin, boy loses dolphin, boy gets dolphin back. Twelve-year-old Sandy Ricks (Luke Halpin) lives with his fisherman father (Chuck Connors) and housewife mother (Kathleen McGuire) in a tumbledown oceanside cabin in the Florida keys. A water rat since birth, Sandy is always taking off on afternoon skin dives that are beautifully photographed by the same underwater experts responsible for Lloyd Bridges' Sea Hunt TV show. One day Sandy comes across a dolphin that's been injured by a harpoon. With the help of his parents, Sandy nurses the animal back to health and names him Flipper. Despite Dad's warnings not to get too attached, Sandy and Flipper become best friends and spend long sunny days swimming together and putting on cute shows for the local kids.
But then the inevitable: Dad demands that Sandy return Flipper to the wild, and who's gonna argue with Chuck Connors when he gets that stern look on his face? Sandy is crushed, and even his incipient pre-adolescent romance with a cutie from down the beach (Connie Scott) isn't much solace.
It takes a truly scary hurricane to bring boy and dolphin together again. Like Lassie before him, Flipper is a born hero, always showing up just in time to save the day. Everything works out just fine, and a chorus of children's voices rises to tell us "They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning, no one you see, is smarter than he."
For a children's movie released when Disney's family-friendly film factory was cranking out sugary Hayley Mills movies every six months, Flipper is refreshingly earthy. The Ricks aren't starving, but they sure ain't rich, and the beach kids have a touch of Little Rascals scruffiness about them. Halpin is a natural, and he would grow up to be a teen idol as Flipper came around again in a sequel. Later, the busy dolphin was asked to perform weekly heroics in a TV version in which the mother was killed off, a smart alecky brother was added, and Connors was replaced by a less terrifying father.
Forty years on, Flipper still has what it takes to entertain today's jaded kids -- at least the younger ones -- as successfully as it entertained their parents. It's a sunny windswept antidote to endless helpings of frantic Japanimation.
One other thing: skip the 1996 remake starring a young and wide-eyed Elijah Wood. It stinks like low tide.
And faster than a shotgun.