Dolphin Tale in 3D Directed by: Charles Martin Smith Cast: Nathan Gamble, Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman Running Time: 1 hr 53 mins Rating: PG Release Date: September 23, 2011
PLOT: A boy (Gamble) makes a strong connection with a dolphin named Winter, whose tail was lost.
WHO'S IT FOR? Kids with a love of dolphins are the obvious audience for this family-friendly, slow-paced film.
EXPECTATIONS: I do most of my crying in the movie theater, and I figured even though this film looked a little cheesy it could work for me. Plus, having Freeman in this flick couldn't hurt, right?
Nathan Gamble as Sawyer Nelson: First things first, while there are many adults in this film, the first two leads are 11-year-old children. Sawyer has father issues, so he's looking for a fish to replace that lost affection. OK, he's not exactly looking, but he definitely finds it. Sawyer is a quiet, dysfunctional kid stuck in summer school when the film begins. Gamble isn't really up for this part of the film. It's almost like the only direction he got was to be silent. Once Gamble's character starts to interact with the dolphin Winter and everyone else for that matter, you see what feels like Gamble's natural personality which is a social butterfly, hyper excited kid. I didn't find either enjoyable to watch. Not awful acting, but I never felt terrible (in the beginning) or excited for (in the end) for Sawyer. Score: 4
Cozi Zuehlsdorff as Hazel Haskett: The perfect definition of plucky. Hazel explains and over-explains the Clearwater Marine Hospital to Sawyer. It's slightly entertaining since Zuehlsdorff brings so much energy to the role. Hazel is the daughter of the guy who runs the place (Dr. Clay), and she's under the impression she runs the place as well. They could have pushed even farther with Hazel being a spaz, since this is where a lot of the energy comes from in the film. Score: 6
Harry Connick Jr. as Dr. Clay Haskett: The lucid tones of Connick's voice are enough to sooth any savage beast, but he's really just hanging out. I'm a little shocked they didn't force a love connection with Lorraine (Judd), so I guess that was a nice surprise. Dr. Clay's wife met an untimely death, but that pain never felt like it was actually present in the story, even when they try to compare fighting for a wife to fighting for a dolphin. Score: 5
Morgan Freeman as Dr. McCarthy: Yes, it's nice to have Freeman in the film. Since he's here with Judd, that means there's a killer on the loose right (Kiss the Girls, High Crimes)? My favorite Freeman moment? When he says, "Ooga, ooga, coming through." Yeah, there's not a lot to work with. Score: 5
Rest of Cast: Ashley Judd plays Sawyer's mother Lorraine. She just wants to see her son happy. Oddly, that means removing him for summer school, which it seems the kid actually needs (he only gets D's and F's, with no reference to this being a rare blip on the map). Ray McKinnon plays the teacher who eventually becomes an enabler to this education issue. Kris Kristofferson plays Dr. Clay's dad who is only capable of talking in sailing terms. The true loss here is Austin Stowell as Kyle. He goes off to the Army and comes home hurt. There is not nearly enough quality moments about his struggle or the way he can identify with Winter. Score: 4
TALKING: There is a lot of explaining and not a lot of feeling. Hazel explains Clearwater to Sawyer. Later, Sawyer walks his mom through a tour of Clearwater. Besides caring for animals, the message here is "family is forever" which is laid on pretty thick. Score: 5
SIGHTS: Winter! Look, this dolphin is adorable and for a while I thought that would be enough for me. Ultimately it wasn't. I did like the beginning when we get a hint of Winter in the ocean. While it might be accurate, having Winter in the tank felt restrictive. I'm talking about the way it was shot. Eventually, it became the feeling of "this again?" There are some basic physical comedy gags that the kids will enjoy involving a noisy pelican and a toy helicopter. The pelican made me laugh once, I can't say the same for the helicopter. Also, there is no reason to see this film in 3D, and it might just be the oddest 3D choice yet. Score: 5
SOUNDS: "Sh Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)" by The Crew Cuts shows up as an oldie but goodie. Mark Isham does the musical score with adequate results. "Safe" by Westlife ends the song but doesn't elevate the emotional moment for me. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: Watching Winter find a way to swim without a tail was completely heartwarming, but it doesn't compare to the end of the ending.
ENDING: One quick conversation from a rich guy is all we need? Plus there's some more bounding with Sawyer and Winter. After that though, we get to see actual footage of the team who helped Winter survive and be an inspiration.
QUESTIONS: Why not focus on the soldiers who were going through something similar to what Winter was dealing with? How much better would the emotional impact have been in I was able to see a documentary instead of this?
REWATCHABILITY: No thanks. The only reason to explore this again would be if they have a long documentary extra on the DVD.
This isn't just a dolphin tale about a dolphin tail. This is about boy whose father is out of the picture, a girl who lost her mom, a cousin who hurt his leg, a brilliant doctor willing to give his time, a hurricane, a wacky pelican and a crazy toy helicopter. So, why couldn't this have just been about a dolphin tail?
Watching Dolphin Tale made me think the director didn't have faith in the core story, so he just kept adding to it. All of these parts distract, not enhance, the film. Speaking of not enhancing ... 3D? I could understand it if most of this film took place in the ocean, but it's such a small, contained set the 3D never has a chance to shine.
Caring for a dolphin is easy for us. During the film Dr. Clay tells a story about a god turning kids into dolphins because they are always playing, and that spirit just doesn't ring through enough in this film. It's fine, but that's not what you want out of an "inspired by a true story" that has such potential. In fact, I know this film has potential because it ends with documentary footage and I found myself almost crying during that part.
Watching children and adults who are missing a limb gain strength from a dolphin is inspiring. But Dolphin Tale focuses on a wacky pelican, or a quiet kid coming out of his shell, more than that potential inspiration.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10