It’s just that it rarely brings surprises.
But “Dolphin Tale” is the kind of kid’s movie where there’s plenty of
interest for the adults who bring them, in part because it’s based on a true
story, and besides, who doesn’t want to save the injured dolphins?
This particular rescue is of a beached dolphin dubbed Winter, who somehow
got enmeshed in a crab fisherman’s net, and winds up struggling on the
shore in Clearwater, Florida. An amateur beach fisherman spots her, and
calls for help from a young boy who happened to be riding by on his bicycle.
Veteran child actor Nathan Gamble plays Sawyer, the boy who’s not doing
well in school. His dad has left home, his mom (Ashley Judd) is stressed
and distracted, and his real role model is his cousin, Kyle (Austin Stowell), a
competitive swimmer who has joined the Army out of pure patriotism.
Sawyer is fascinated when the Dolphin Rescue team comes and carefully
places Winter on a stretcher and delivers her to their recovery and rehab
facility to try to revive and restore her, then release her back into the
ocean. But it’s not that simple. The infection has so covered her tail fin
that it has to be amputated, and now she’s not able to swim normally. She
seems lethargic and listless, like she’s depressed. But she manages to perk
up when Sawyer is around, presumably because she gives him credit for
discovering her awash on the seashore.
Suddenly our formerly truant Sawyer has a purpose. He throws himself into
the work at the specialized aquarium, which just happens to be headed up
by a single dad with a daughter his age. Yes, yes, we’re supposed to play
matchup here, but fortunately that’s underplayed. We won’t be making
another Brady Bunch just yet. Instead, we focus on the very interesting
process of trying to encourage Winter to accept a prosthesis, crafted by
the eminent Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman). We’ve met him
because Kyle has returned from the war not only damaged physically, but
damaged emotionally as well. What we’re not prepared for is the way
Winter seems to respond to humans who suffer disabilities, as if this brings
encouragement to her, not to mention her human counterparts.
Since the rescue operation is in financial trouble, as well, Sawyer helps
organize a fundraiser that features online advertising, and people show up
because it’s such a winsome story. And during the credits at the end they
show video footage of the “real” Winter and his handlers, and if that doesn’t
warm the cockles of your heart, well, your cockles have become pretty
Ronald P. Salfen is interim pastor of St. Stephens Presbyterian Church in