TMG Scale 7.0 P Factor 0.0 MPAA Rating: PG
Starring Nathan Gamble, Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Austin Stowell
TMG has to retract his pre-screening digs at this film. It a solid movie and a very good family film. The MPAA rating should be G. Winter, the dolphin, is the Soul Surfer (2011) of dolphins.
The opening scenes of dolphins wild in the ocean set the tone. One unfortunate note is when watching this in enhanced 3D like TMG did, it sort of looks artificially altered and suggestive you may not be viewing real ocean footage. I was also concerned if some ridiculous environmentalist wacko message was being sent about crab fishing. Fortunately, the movie skipped past that temptation—probably because the producers and directors were dining on lobster, steak and crab most evenings after a long day of filming.
This film story is stated to be “inspired” by a true story. “Inspired”, perhaps. The fiction begins after the inspiration. Winter, indeed is a real bottlenose dolphin that was rescued by the Clearwater (Florida) Marine Aquarium after being entangled in a crab line and beached. Her tail was so damaged it had to be amputated—pretty devastating if not fatal for a dolphin. There are no crutches or wheelchairs in the sea. Winter plays herself in this film which is a real positive. We are spared wondering if this is all conjured up and done with green socks special effects like Lt. Dan’s Leg in Forrest Gump (1994) or Chris Cooper in A Time to Kill (1996). So you are seeing the real thing and a true “tale of a tail” in that respect. Beyond that, the story is gratuitously more fiction than the Bethany Hamilton story portrayed in Soul Surfer.
What we are treated to is a great family film with a good story. Young Sawyer is twelveish, an only child with a runaway Dad and struggling to find himself. He fortuitously rides his bike by and helps rescue Winter from the beach. Sawyer becomes captivated by the dolphin’s predicament and begins helping out and bonding with Winter and the family running the rescue aquarium. Sawyer’s Mom (Judd) knows Sawyer needs a male role model and cousin Kyle (Stowell) foots that bill. But, Kyle goes off to war and returns with a severely injured leg and ends up a broken man in a Veteran’s rehab hospital. A slightly eccentric, prosthetic fitting, Dr. McCarthy (Freeman) is there trying to help him emotionally and physically. Sawyer makes the connection when visiting Kyle and Dr. McCarthy. We are then treated to a touching and at times, gripping story of human and mammal triumph over diversity. Sawyer is inspired by Winter. Kyle is inspired by Sawyer. Everyone wins.
While the film has more than its share of overacting and copious corny scenes and lines, it works. Even the exaggerated stage style acting by Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff who does an Annie type performance), the little aquarium daughter, does not ruin the film. Judd added little and Harry Connick ,Jr as the aquarium Dad, was a weird choice. He clearly overbuffed up for the role and was just unconvincing. And what was Kris Kristofferson doing in this film? I got a quick laugh just seeing him on screen. Despite these casting flaws, Winter did an awesome job playing herself. Morgan Freeeman was a terrific pick for the role of Dr. McCarthy. Young Nathan Gamble, is TMG’s pick for one of the great new stars out there. Austin Stowell had a minor role as the injured soldier cousin, but also showed great depth. The latter four carried the film and made the story blend well.
TMG recommends Dolphin Tale and Soul Surfer as inspiring and worthwhile for the entire family. We can forgive the overdone and corny stuff that should have been edited out.