out of Five
Running time: 113
Engagingly directed and superbly written, this is a heart-warming feel-good drama with likeable characters and some impressive dolphin wrangling, though the 3D is entirely unnecessary.
What's it all about?
Directed by Charles Martin Smith, Dolphin Tale is loosely based on a true story (the dolphin's story is true, the characters are almost all invented) and stars Nathan Gamble as Sawyer Nelson, a shy 11 year old kid whose idolised swim-champ cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) has just gone off to war. While out on the beach one day, Sawyer rescues a severely injured dolphin entangled in a crab trap, which is how he meets kindly marine doctor Clay (Harry Connick Jr) and his feisty young daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), who name the dolphin Winter and take her back to their aquarium-slash-marine rescue centre for rehabilitation.
When Sawyer stops by to check on Winter's progress, he learns that the doctors have been unable to save Winter's tail and when Kyle returns from the war with a severe injury, Sawyer attempts to convince prosthetic expert Doctor McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) to design a replacement tail for his new aquatic friend. Meanwhile, Clay faces a different set of problems in that the aquarium is rapidly running out of the funds it needs to stay afloat.
Nathan Gamble delivers a likeable performance as Sawyer, generating engaging chemistry with both Zuehlsdorff (their friendship is both sweet and convincing) and Winter. There's also strong support from Ashley Judd (as Sawyer's single mother), Connick Jr and Stowell, while Morgan Freeman and Kris Kristofferson try to out-twinkle each other as Doctor McCarthy and Clay's father Reed.
The true story factor means that there's never any doubt where this is going, but the script is extremely good and ensures a steady stream of quietly effective feel-good moments, such as Judd's character allowing Sawyer to drop out of summer school because she realises he's getting something much more valuable out of his time at the aquarium. Similarly, the dialogue is extremely assured and prevents the film from descending into mawkish sentimentality, even during the more obvious hankies-at-the-ready moments, such as Winter's tale becoming an inspiration to disabled children.
The Equally Good
The dolphin wrangling is impressive throughout, particularly during the bonding scenes. However, one or two dolphin-leaping-out-of-water shots aside, the 3D is largely superfluous and fails to compensate for the attendant loss of colour.
Dolphin Tale is an entertaining, well made, feel-good drama that tells a remarkable true story. Worth seeing.