CPE and Em: Dolphin Tale adds filler to a real story

Dolphin Tale – 2011

Directed by Charles Martin Smith
Starring Harry Connick, Jr., Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristofferson, Jim Fitzpatrick, Winter, Austin Stowell
Written by
 Karen Janszen, Noam Dromi

The last time I thought of Charles Martin Smith, he got blasted by a double barrel in an elevator while escorting the accountant witness in The Untouchables.  He’s been busy since then, but not as much in front of the camera ans behind it.  His first effort was the campy horror trash Trick or Treat in 1986.  From here, he dabbled in television, went to the lowest of low-budget and hit it huge with Air Bud.  After doing a mixture of acting, screenwriting, producing and directing since, he recieved a slew of Genie Award nominations for his efforts on The Snow Walker, based on a story by Never Cry Wolf author Farley Mowat.

So, how do these experiences get him to Dolphin Tale?  I would venture to guess that it has much to do with Air Bud as it does anything else.  While I was not so much into that film, this film is much more accessible for our whole family, not just the 9 and under crowd.

Based on a true story that has been adapted to, you know, include kids, Dolphin Tale centers around a little boy who happens upon a fisherman trying to rescue a dolphin trapped in a fishing line.  The dolphin, named Winter, loses its tail, but it gains some allies, including the boy, Sawyer Nelson, who work to nurse her back to health and, eventually give her a prosthetic tail.

While a lot of the film does seem to be Disneyfied, there is a genuine nature to the kid, played by Tacoma, Washington native Nathan Gamble (no relation to CPE that I know of).  He is not so bright-eyed, as he is curious.  Even though the script treats him like a genius of sorts, he doesn’t come off as though he expects this kind of reverie.  So, like, that counts for something.

Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd and Kris Kristofferson (who my daughter mistook for Jeff Bridges, until I disappointed her with the truth) all add name recognition to pretty generic roles.  They don’t necessarily add much to the film, but I always like seeing the grizzled old vet that Kristofferson adds to any film he is in.  Morgan Freeman acts as though he is on a holiday, which is a pleasant departure for him.

What counts for more is the subplot that involves the effect that the real dolphin Winter has had on disabled children and veterans.  Although the prosthetic in the movie comes off like a vacation project by mad prosthetic genius and VA Doctor Cameron McCarthy (Freeman), it did take a while longer (at least a year) in real life.  Still, though, many people came from near and far to see Winter and marvel at the seeming joy of her existence.  This is portrayed effectively and economically in the movie through the character of Sawyer’s cousin Kyle (Stowell), a war veteran who comes back with disabilities to overcome.  This is accompanied by other children and adults suffering the similar challenges that have benefited from the new technology designed to help prevent damage to the skin from the use of prostheses.

There is the requisite false crisis, this time in the form of hurricane damage, which must be overcome by the two kids, who decide to “put on a show,” to “save” Winter.  That these things never occurred in life is an indication in producers who don’t trust the power of the original story.  No one benefits from the last 1/3 of the film, other than to see that the prosthetic actually worked and that Winter is indeed an inspiration to many.  The story suffers from this lack of courage, using stagnated and generic movie parts from lesser films to pad filler into this one.

The rest of it is pretty good stuff, filmed in the original site where Winter was rescued, rehabilitated and lives today.  The movie is worth it just for the sight of people going out of their way to dedicate so much time and effort to help ease the suffering of another sentient being.  For that matter the movie is much improved by the video footage during credits showing the real folks involved in this effort.  There are also some good documentaries included that add even more value to those who love this story.

(***1/2 out of *****, **** with extra material)

Em’s review:

I really loved this movie.  It makes me want to be a marine biologist even more. That’s why I think you and Mom should home school me, so I would have more time to work with other people who like to take care of animals.   I don’t know why Jeff Bridges hasn’t been in a movie with animals yet.

I give this movie (***** out of *****)

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