By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
It’s a dolphin movie all right, but it’s also about a boy who finds his porpoise in life.
Dolphin Tale is a solid, inspirational drama to take the kids to that’s emotional without being manipulative.
As the film opens, the dolphin, named Winter (who plays herself) becomes tightly entangled in a crab-trap line and consequently loses her tail. Although this would eventually be a life-threatening injury in the wild, the young mammal survives, but must then learn to swim without a tail.
The boy, Sawyer Nelson, played by Nathan Gamble, has been depressed and withdrawn since his father left. But his desire to help Winter and their boy-and-dolphin bonding pulls him out of his shell and changes his life. And hers.
Harry Connick Jr. plays the veterinarian who rescues Winter and brings her to the nearby Clearwater Marine Hospital that he manages in Florida and that’s on the brink of insolvency; Kris Kristofferson plays the vet’s father; Ashley Judd is the boy’s mother; and Morgan Freeman portrays the doctor and prosthetics specialist whom they turn to to design and create a prosthetic appendage for Winter, a tail made of rubberized plastic and carbon fiber.
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Winter’s tale comes to inspire more than a few humans as well, some of them disabled veterans outfitted with similar devices.
Director Charles Martin Smith (Air Bud, Trick or Treat), working from a screenplay by Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi, tells his story from the youngster’s perspective and takes his time — which in this case is a compliment.
Smith obviously believes strongly enough in his source material to trust his youthful audience not to indulge their contemporary attention-deficit inclinations and tune him out.
The director also makes an admirable attempt to deal with on-screen disability in a more forthright way than is the movie-screen norm. He largely succeeds.
Yes, he pours on the uplift a bit too aggressively. But in an unashamedly heart-on-its-sleeve kidflick, which is what Dolphin Tale is, it’s certainly a justifiable approach.
As for the 3-D element, it is — as has so often been the case on the movie landscape of late — utterly gratuitous. The film’s a-day-at-the-aquarium charm plays just as well in 2-D. Save yourself the surcharge.
In the tradition of Flipper and Free Willy, Dolphin Tale involves rescue, recovery, courage, kindness, perseverance, and hope. And it demonstrates the way a community can be transformed by the desire of folks to be helpful in some way.
So we’ll swim through 3 stars out of 4 for the child-friendly Dolphin Tale, a sincere and superior (no, they’re not mutually exclusive) family drama that’s tail-wagging, heartwarming, and watertight.