It’s the holiday season again, which means lots of kids have a little more time off than usual. If you’re looking for a film the whole family can watch—one devoid of nudity, sexual situations, violence or adult language—Dolphin Tale fits that bill.
Based on a true story, Dolphin Tale is an inspirational tale of redemption and realization. Young Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) has been withdrawn ever since his father left him and his mother (Ashley Judd) five years earlier. One day, while walking to summer school Sawyer comes across a dolphin that has washed up on the beach after the animal gets caught up in a crab trap. Sawyer helps a fisherman rescue the dolphin, and it’s taken to the Clearwater Marine Hospital, where Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.), his staff, and daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) work to nurse it back to health. Worried about the dolphin, now named Winter, Sawyer starts visiting her every day at the Marine Hospital.
While Winter pulls through, she suffers an injury to her tail. As Dr. Drew and his staff continue to care for the disabled dolphin, she learns to swim without it, but that ends up causing dangerous spinal issues—she swishes her stump from side to side, not a natural movement for a dolphin. Enter the genial and funny Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) from the nearby V.A. hospital, who agrees to design a prosthetic meant to facilitate a dolphin’s normal up-and-down propulsion movement. Unfortunately, Winter rejects the initial prototype. After that, the hospital (already in financial peril) is seriously damaged by “Hurricane LeRoy”, whereupon the board of directors agrees to close the hospital, and sell it to a real estate developer. While all this is happening, there’s a subplot involving Sawyer’s cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), a local swimming champion who no sooner joins the army than he comes back with a devastating injury that leaves him devastated. Winter, fighting to overcome her own disability, inspires him to make the most of his newfound situation. But can the Clearwater Marine Hospital be saved? Since this is a family movie, most adults will have a pretty good idea of the answer. However, the way everything is resolved is in a sweet and workmanlike manner.
The film benefits from good chemistry between Gamble and Winter the dolphin, who incidentally is ‘playing herself.’ Morgan Freeman may have done this film for the paycheck, but he does add some humor to the proceedings. Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr. manage to deliver surprisingly well drawn characters despite the fact that the single mother and put upon professional do-gooder tend to be overused in these types of films.
Charles Martin Smith’s direction is best described as workmanlike. Having directed Air bud (1987), Smith has experience with kid friendly, animal based fare. He captures genuine moments of emotion—happy or sad—and tries to stay away from allowing the story to become maudlin.
Presented in 1.85:1, Warner delivers a pretty good 1080p transfer. Detail is strong throughout, with only the occasional smear becoming noticeable. Collor is wonderful, appearing bright and vivid. There’s some slight aliasing occasionally, but black levels remain consistent.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound mix isnt particularly impressive, but it preserves the design. Dialogue is clear and audible throughout, atmospherics are present, but the surrounds never really get a true workout. We don’t get an enveloping mix, but Dolphin Tale doesn’t really call for it.
French, Spanish, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
Along with the DVD and UV Digital Copy, the following special features are included:
- The Hutash Rainbow Bridge (HD, 2 minutes): a rather pedestrian computer-animated short. The animation is a bit rough, but kids will probably love it.
- At Home with Winter (HD, 13 minutes): Behind-the-scenes with the cast and crew.
- Spotlight on a Scene (HD, 7 minutes): Director Charles Martin Smith and producer Andrew Kosove discuss the film’s opening sequence, the digitally created dolphins that star in it, and the 3D techniques involved in bringing the scene to life in three dimensions.
- Winter’s Inspiration (HD, 18 minutes): The true story of Winter, her recovery and the people who saved her take center stage in this featurette.
- Ormie and the Cookie Jar (HD, 4 minutes): An original animated short about a pig trying to reach a cookie jar on top of a refrigerator.
- Winter Meets Panama (HD, 2 minutes): A deleted scene.
- Gag Reel (HD, 3 minutes)