Published Sep 22, 2011Celebrating perseverance and purporting a belief in human kindness and determination, it's hard to scoff at or dismiss the implicit Free Willy sincerity of Dolphin Tale, even though its handling of incidental dramatics is exceedingly superficial. But short of having complexities that inject realist peril into the idealist quotidian ideation formula, this uplifting family movie delivers its heartfelt promise of feel good empowerment without reaching for mawkish contrivance.
This has to do, in part, with it being the true story of dolphin named Winter that's discovered and saved by young Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) after coming ashore trapped in a crab net. Initially believed unable swim after losing her tail, the collaboration and spirit of Sawyer, his divorced mother, Lorraine (Ashley Judd), prosthetics specialist Dr. McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), widower hospital owner Clay (Harry Connick Jr.) and daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorf) help Winter overcome her struggle while they each learn something about themselves.
That single parents Lorraine and Clay never hook up, reaffirming the nuclear family as sole mode of personal fulfilment, is just one of the surprises amidst the slight plotting, involving a despondent boy failing in school and a hospital owner in financial crisis. Again, this has to do with the "true" nature of the story, but there's also care never to step into unnecessary histrionics. Each cast member remains grounded in their reality, just as each plot element fosters its own genuinely earned emotional ire despite an occasionally overwhelming score and touching speeches from Kris Kristofferson).
It makes for a surprisingly mature and moving cinematic experience that falls short only in convincingly portraying enough worldly imperfection to sell the possibility that things might not work out for everyone. There are worse fates for a family film, but it's the distinction between a touching work of the moment and one that withstands the trials of time. (Warner)