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Dolphin Tale - film review

Review by Tim Carson

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5 (3.5 for kids)

The best thing about Dolphin Tale is the true story it’s based on. The story of how a young female dolphin called Winter was rescued, had her tail amputated and then fought to survive with the help of a Florida marine hospital and a team of prosthetics experts is truly remarkable and uplifting.

Why the film-makers decided they needed to embellish that story to quite the extent they did is bizarre. Real-life footage of Winter’s rescue and recovery with the help of a prosthetic tail are shown at the end of this film and reveal that the true heart of this movie is the dolphin herself and the marine biologists that helped her.

Thankfully, that heart is retained to some extent as the remarkable dolphin Winter plays herself in much of the film – with a little help from some top-notch animatronics. But around that is a rather contrived and overly sentimental story of a young boy and how he helps save Winter and how she helps save him and his family.

Sawyer a withdrawn, 12-year-old boy, is being raised by his mum and his only friend is the teenage cousin who is about to go off to war. Sawyer helps rescue Winter when she gets stuck in a fishing net and is soon a fixture at the the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where she is being cared for.

There he befriends not only Winter, but also a girl his own age called Hazel and her father Dr Clay Haskett. Sawyer helps Winter learn to swim without her tail but that is a threat to her life and another solution must be found. A prosthetic tail is proposed and a kindly but eccentric prosthetics expert offers to help out.

This is clearly film aimed at a family audience but its story – with its never-ending list of quickly-resolved disasters – caters purely for the children and there is very little for the adults to get their teeth into.

That said there is a lot here for kids to enjoy and they’ll be more forgiving of the contrived challenges set in the way of the main protagonists. The two lead child actors Nathan Gamble as Sawyer and Cozi Zeuhlsdorff as Hazel also do exceptionally well in carrying the film on their young shoulders.

The strong adult cast, including Harry Connick Jr as Dr Clay: Ashley Judd as Sawyer’s mother: Kris Kristofferson as Clay’s salty sea-dog father; and Morgan Freeman as the eccentric prosthetics expert, all give able support and provide credible characters around the kids.

There are also some nice parallels drawn between the struggle of some of the human characters with that of Winter, and some positive messages to take away from a film that’s hard to dislike. It just feels disappointing that a richer story with a few more layers and a few less clichés couldn’t have been developed from what is an amazing tale.

Read our interview with Harry Connick Jr who plays Dr Clay Haskett