Somewhere it is written that the majority of family films must include a certain amount of cheese, or at least a handful of overly sentimental scenes. Dolphin Tale is based on an extraordinary true story, in which much of this film is fabricated around. The movie opens with CGI dolphins swimming under the ocean to a typically composed score. The cast is a blend of actors who only show up in these types of roles that earn them a quick paycheck; in this case, it's a host of Tennessean’s: Judd, Kristofferson and Connick Jr. The film, however, belongs to Nathan Gamble, who you won’t remember from The Dark Knight (he played Gordon’s son).

Sawyer Nelson (Gamble) is on his way to summer school in the coastal town of Clearwater, FL, where he lives with his mom (Judd). Having said goodbye to his brother-like cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), who joined the army, Sawyer is faced with a summer of school due to his bad grades and lack of enthusiasm for life in general. This is a day for opportunity when Sawyer finds an injured dolphin on the beach; his comfort to the animal doesn’t go unnoticed and, later, when he visits the animal in the hospital she remembers him. Winter, the dolphin, loses her tail due to infection and Sawyer becomes so interested in marine life that he is determined to help save the animal even if it means getting her a new tail.

The actual story doesn’t involve a middle school boy whose life is changed by this dolphin; that’s just Hollywood talking. I couldn’t help but spot the glaringly obvious parallels to Seabiscuit in a number of ways. None more obvious than when wounded soldier Kyle returns to meet wounded Winter, it nearly identically copies a scene in Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit was never considered a family film. However, it was, and for a ton of more reasons than Dolphin Tale. The script here is written to specifically tug on the heart strings of those willing to buy into this melodrama featuring the young boy. However, it doesn’t honestly earn those tears or justify the sentimentality.

Television actor Stowell, soon to be seen in Puncture, delivers the worst performance of the whole group. His Macy’s Dept store smile and inability to deliver the line “just leave” lowers the production to a Lifetime level. The movie’s real low point occurs when the two kids drive the remote controlled helicopter through the marine center, taking on the worst special effects in the movie. The silver lining, if there is one, would be Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, whose role as the tail engineering scientist (not unlike his role in The Dark Knight series) lends the wittier dialogue. My biggest problem with the family genre is that everything always ends up not just happy, but perfect. No matter what obstacles there are in these types of films, good will always prevail.

 Final Thought – Drowns in cheesy dialogue and overly sentimental feelings.

Grade C-

By: Dustin Chase W.

Editor: Michael Woody

Dr. Donna Copeland’s


This heartwarming story of the friendship between a shy, withdrawn boy and an injured dolphin will provide inspiration, encouragement, and hope to those who have experienced traumas that have changed their lives forever.  The film’s opening is timely in that it coincides with current events when many injured veterans are returning to the U.S. with an unprecedented number of missing limbs and brain injuries.  Our society is not always welcoming and helpful to these men, and the film does a good job not only in its attention to the injured, but to the viewers as well, helping us become less fearful and more accepting of those who have come to look different.

 The movie is rather predictable in its plot, but is one I think most families will enjoy.  Some kids who watch it may well identify with Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) who is failing in school and must attend summer school.  It will help students in similar situations see that there may be ways around the problems; the important thing is to develop an interest in something constructive, and stick with it through the setbacks.  

 I enjoyed seeing the parallels drawn between the boy’s, the dolphin’s, and the older cousin’s responses to loss—ones that are not unusual at all in the animal and human world:  withdrawal, anger, and depression.  But as we see in the movie, when the environment is supportive and inviting, this need be only a temporary situation that evolves into ongoing adjustment to change.

 This is a good film for families to watch and then discuss together afterwards.