By John Delia
The inspiring, moving, poignant true story Dolphin Tale splashes into theaters this weekend with a family friendly theme that’s sure to touch your heart. Filmed in Florida where it happened, it’s a movie about a dolphin that receives a compassionate helping hand and a strange new lease on life.
Riding his bike to summer school, Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) comes across a horrible sight, a beached dolphin tangled in ropes and attached to a crab trap. Using a tender hand and his pocketknife, he frees the dolphin from most of the bonds that are strangling it. Rushing to his aid, Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) takes the mammal to the Clearwater Marine Hospital where he finds that its her tail has to be removed to save her life. Sawyer and Haskett’s young daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) become emotionally attached to the aquatic animal. When Sawyer stumbles upon prosthetics doctor Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), he comes forward with a plan.
The acting here is quite good. Newcomer Zuehlsdorff puts on a very good comical show as the daughter of Dr. Haskett with her continuous jabber about her knowledge of the Marine Hospital and the animals it contains. She’s a sweet breath of fresh air in a role that seemed to be written for her. Playing opposite her, Gamble plays it straight, working hard to keep Sawyer a key role among the greats like Connick Jr. and Morgan Freeman. His role doesn’t need much creative acting, being a boy who saves Winter from death twice.
Freeman draws a walk-on character, the man who develops the prosthetic tail that saves Winter from an untimely death. There’s not much to his role here, but I am glad they chose him for this family movie as he ups the cast value by a ton. Connick Jr., best known for his music, plays it safe as the animal doctor who saves Winter from dying from a gangrene-type injury and bringing to light that all mammals are important. His character needed a smooth easygoing kind of actor, and Connick Jr. fits perfectly.
The movie comes together quite well under the direction of Charles Martin Smith, although I found the progression of time and events questionable. His best feat comes with the depiction of the hurricane that nearly wiped out the Clearwater Marine Hospital. Covering his location with debris following simulated damaging winds (and some stock actual footage), being a Florida resident it looked very realistic.
Dolphin Tale is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. The colors are quite bright and cheerful. The detail is high enough to get a full appreciation for Winter and her amazing recovery. The detail is not so kind to Freeman, but it’s his performances we fall in love with, not his face. Black levels are better than average. The underwater scenes deliver some striking clarity.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is not very aggressive, but I’m sure the intent here was for a more intimate film. There are some rather nice uses of the dolphin clicks and squeaks to provide plenty of special ear candy. The dialog comes through perfectly, and that’s where the real heart of the audio presentation can be found.
There are two Audio Commentaries to be found here. The first features director Charles Martin Smith. He talks about working with the real Winter and at the place where the story actually happened. He addresses the fictional aspects and gives strong argument for his choices. The second is with the writers.
All in HD.
The Hutash Rainbow Bridge: (2:26) This feature takes you to the telling of the myth but now adding animation to accent the story.
At Home With Winter: (13:22) Cast and crew delight about working with Winter and at the Clearwater Hospital. There’s plenty of behind the scenes footage showing Winter hard at work…and play.
Spotlight On A Scene: (7:17) A look at the prologue which is the only place to use computer-generated dolphins.
Winter’s Inspiration: (18:08) The real Winter story and the impact it has had on real people.
Deleted Scene: (2:21)
Gag Reel: (2:49)
Keeping the cast from running amuck with their own style, Smith puts on one of the best animal inspirational family films I’ve seen in a decade. He works his audience with an emotional story, putting his characters in a difficult position of possibly having Winter put to death with only blind luck saving the day. He depicts Florida’s seaside much like the days of old when the television show Flipper made northerners want to move to the state and live the good life.
Portions of this review were written by Gino Sassani