Dolphin Tale 3D

Based on a true story.

Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) doesn’t like school. He’s getting mostly D’s and F’s. As a result, he finds himself in summer school. And he likes that even less. To add to all of this drama, his dad left his family a few years ago. And his cousin, Kyle (Austin Stowell), an all-star swimmer with Olympic dreams, is headed overseas with the Army.

On his way to summer school one day, Sawyer is biking by the beach, where an old man discovers a beached dolphin who was caught in a crab trap. Against the man’s warning, Sawyer cuts the dolphin free. Shortly after doing so, the Clearwater Marine Hospital team shows up to rescue the dolphin.

The Clearwater Marine Hospital is a poorly funded operation to rescue, rehab, and release injured ocean animals. It is headed by Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.). His young daughter, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) helps out, too.

When Sawyer sneaks into the hospital to see how Winter, the name given the dolphin by Hazel, is doing, Hazel recognizes him as the boy who cut Winter free. Against her father’s rules, Hazel takes Sawyer to see Winter. Winter isn’t doing so well. The tissue in her tail is mostly dead. She won’t eat. She won’t swim. She seems to have given up.

Until she sees Sawyer. She apparently recognizes him as the boy who saved her. Dr. Haskett realizes he may be Winter’s best hope for survival and allows Sawyer to help with Winter’s rehabilitation. And she starts to turn around. Then her tail needs to be amputated. (Sawyer’s mom (Ashley Judd), who had no idea he had been skipping summer school to help, realizes how important this is to Sawyer, overcomes her anger at his lying, and the school’s lack of accommodation of this extra-curricular activity, and allows Sawyer to continue his work.)

Winter eventually teaches herself to swim without a tail. An amazing feat. But it is not without its price. Her spine is not designed for the side to side motion she now uses. Her amazing adaptability may be her downfall, leading to paralysis and death.

When Kyle returns home from abroad, after being paralyzed by an explosive, Sawyer meets Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman – because if you’re going to get anyone to put a tail on a dolphin, who else would you want?). Dr. McCarthy is a prosthetic specialist who, at Sawyer’s request, starts working on a prosthetic tail for Winter.

This is a good movie for the family. It teaches kids not to give up. And it’s hard not to root for the tailless dolphin and the boy who loves her. It also chronicles an amazing story that I think even Hollywood masterminds, who seem to have problems coming up with original ideas, as evidenced by the current rash of 80s movies remakes, would have trouble dreaming up.

It is based on a true story. This, as does Winter’s ability to find a way to cope with the loss of her tail, comes at a cost. The movie is two hours long. And it feels every minute of it. The movie tries to tell every bit of the story as it actually happened. This means adding in some storylines or scenes with are essentially extraneous.

A nice touch is that Winter is actually played by Winter, not some CGI dolphin. And she really is missing her tail. You get to see how she has learned to swim without this vital appendage. It is truly impressive.

Keeping everything in mind, this is an enjoyable movie, and a moving story about a dolphin determined to overcome adversity, giving hope to many. Take your kids. They’ll love it. (And the 3D takes the movie up a notch, worth the extra ticket price.)

Come on. It’s a dolphin without a tail. Why wouldn’t you go see it?

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