4 Stars – Inspiring
The true story of a handicapped dolphin named Winter is fascinating. But when director Charles Martin Smith retells this story on the big screen, he creates a multilayered tale in which the healing of this dolphin becomes a catalyst for healing others as well. Written by Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi and with an ensemble cast who artfully underplay the emotional journey, “Dolphin Tale” is an inspiration.
The ensemble revolves around an eleven year old boy named Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble). A sensitive kid who is grieving the unexplained departure of his father five years earlier, Kyle is devastated when his father substitute, cousin Kyle Connellan (Austin Stowell) leaves for the war. As a record-setting swimmer, Kyle’s hope for Olympic gold is threatened when he returns handicapped in body and mind. In a way that strengthens the tale, both Sawyer and Kyle are in need of hope and healing as they cope with their shared emotional handicap. Sawyer’s mother (Ashley Judd) struggles to understand and help.
The dolphin Winter becomes the catalyst of this hope and healing when Sawyer happens upon her as she lies dying on the shore of Clearwater, Florida. As a fisherman calls for help, the rescue team that appears brings the next members of the ensemble cast who are in need of their own healing. The same age as Sawyer is the friendly and freckled girl named Hazel Haskett (Cozi Zuehisdorff). The daughter of veterinarian Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) who runs the marine hospital, Hazel also grieves the loss of a parent due to the death of her mother at the age of seven. Providing protective wisdom over their family is her grandfather Reed (Kris Kristofferson).
Rounding out the ensemble is prosthesis creator Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman). Having helped Kyle by fitting him for a brace, Sawyer realizes that perhaps Dr. McCarthy could also help Winter with a prosthesis because of the loss of her tail.
We won’t spoil how all of this healing occurs or how a hurricane and a bankrupt non-profit all weave together, but the lessons relate to both dolphins and humans. As social beings, dolphins need relationships to heal. The same is true of humans. However, dolphins and humans alike fight against others’ attempts to help them. And both dolphins and humans need to know they are loved before they have the courage to try to overcome circumstances that seem insurmountable. As a film appropriate for both children and adults, we recommend it.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When we experience an injury that leaves us handicapped, we are harmed both physically and emotionally. Has this happened to you, and if so, how did you find your way? Who helped you?
2. The Bible states in its opening chapters that humans have responsibility to care for the animals. Why do you think we often do not do so?
3. The healing of everyone in the film is of course a contrived tale. Do you discount a film in which everything works out well for everyone in the end? Why or why not?