DOLPHIN TALE 2
By Gary Murray
Starring Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble and Harry Connick Jr
Written and directed by Charles Martin Smith
Based on characters by Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi
Running time 107 min
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating Cable
Many decades ago Disney would make live action ‘family films’, wholesome entertainment that was for both 8 year-olds and 80 year-olds. Swiss Family Robinson, Old Yeller and Treasure Island are three solid examples of this type of film.
But all those were decades ago and it seems that Hollywood is more interested in R-rated films than family friendly flicks. That makes little fiscal sense because when looking at cost to profit ratio, family films make more money than R-rated films. In that family mode, comes the sequel to Dolphin Tale and is titled Dolphin Tale 2.
Based on the real-life characters, Dolphin Tale was the 2011 story of Winter a hurt animal who is rescued by a boy named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble). Eventually the boy convinces a doctor to make a prosthetic tale so the dolphin can swim naturally. It was a crowd-pleasing, heart-warming adventure that did great on DVD.
Dolphin Tale 2 takes place a few years after the event. Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) still works with Winter at the aquarium but life is not as smooth as it was a few years ago.
Sawyer is growing up and getting notices from both academia and the local girls. He is offered an opportunity to go on a long-term scientific expedition. That would mean he would have to leave Winter. It would also mean that he would have to leave Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), his co-worker and best friend.
His mom Lorraine (Ashley Judd) wants what is best for her son and is pushing him toward the trip. But change comes hard for the boy. Dr. Cameron (Harry Connick Jr.) works with Sawyer and runs the aquarium. He is like a father figure to Sawyer and believes it is a great opportunity.
With Winter, the aquarium is doing door-busting business. The higher-ups see Winter as a star attraction and want to make sure that everything is going right with the animal. Business is more important that research.
Female dolphins need other females around and Panama is Winter’s female companion. A tragedy happens and Panama is gone. Dr. Cameron must find another dolphin for Winter or the animal will die. The government wants to move Winter to Texas.
A young female dolphin has beached itself on the shore. The rescue crew saves the animal and begins to nurse it back to health. This dolphin could be the solution to the problem with Winter. But by keeping the animal, Dr. Cameron would have to go against the tenets of the aquarium. The decision–keep the dolphin or have Winter die.
The film twists and turns as these different elements come together to a singular plot. The film is much more about growing up and going on after tragedy. It is also about accepting that life is a long journey with many opportunities.
Even though Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman and Harry Connick Jr. are all featured in the advertising, they are secondary characters who basically just stand around and look amazed. It you blink, you miss Morgan Freeman.
The three real stars of Dolphin Tale 2 are Winter, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff. The two humans love the animal and have affection for each other, trying to accept feeling and still be friends. The film never forces a relationship between the teens but lets it happen naturally.
Easily the most interesting part of the film happens during the credits. They are documentary scenes of the real Winter and other dolphins. Their real journey to become paired females is the strongest element of the film. The physical matching of the actual events and the fictionalized version are eerily similar. To be honest, the more interesting film would have been a straight documentary of how the events played out.
Director by Charles Martin Smith is best at capturing the underwater scenes. When the kids swim with Winter it is a beautiful ballet of camera and subject. It is just that the film feels maudlin and overly sentimental. Time and time again, the emotional resonance feels forced. He tries to pound too many different elements in a short time.
There are those who believe that Dolphin Tale 2 exploits dolphins and exploits the differently-abled. While I agree that the animals should not be held in captivity, Winter and other damaged dolphins cannot be released back into the wild so they must be cared for by humans or become food for other animals. When the choice is keeping the animal safe and letting it become orca food, I would choose the former.
There are also scenes where children missing limbs visit Winter. While the idea is to parallel humans missing limbs and dolphins missing limbs, the exercise felt manipulative.
This film is on par with a film seen on Lifetime or The Hallmark Channel. It is more of an entertainment than a cinematic accomplishment. Dolphin Tale 2 might be a crowd-pleaser but I found the film a bit boring.