It’s impossible not to like a film like Dolphin Tale. While many of its story elements and motifs are tried and true it does find an interesting way to combine them and bring this dramatized version of a real life story to life very effectively. The only things that can really be cited as negatives about the film are that the edit isn’t as tight as it could be notably some scenes could be excised and there is that familiarity of certain elements and an air of predictability.
In spite of all that, however, the film does excel in creating an emotionally engaging experience that plays like a new age low key Free Willy (Yes, I know that was an Orca), which is a very good thing indeed. What is meant by that is that Winter, the female dolphin in question, is very much at the center of the film and it’s just as much about her as anyone but there’s also a connection between a boy and the animal and we understand and admire this connection without the histrionics the former employed. Not to say that Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) has a perfect home life but not everything in this film is extreme, the problems are more grounded, real and easier to identify with.
One of the more refreshing things about the film is that the social consciousness is already a fabric of the story so it never needs to be awkwardly commented upon as what starts Sawyer’s fascination with marine life is visiting Winter at a rehabilitation center. So unlike some films that deal with animals there’s not an iota of concern about characters domesticating, using them for sport or any other things that would detract from the purity of the fascination.
Another danger of animal related films is that the human characters, some but not all, are less developed and subservient and this doesn’t occur in this film. The editing choices mentioned at the beginning would not be anything that relates to the characters because you learn about all the characters in this film and see them build relationships and unite for a common goal and you become invested in the outcome for all their sakes and not just for the protagonist, which isn’t a frequent occurrence.
Learning about characters can be a delight or a chore depending on the strength of the cast. The cast of this film made it delightful. First, there’s the young lead Nathan Gamble who is the best young actor whom you’ve seen but can’t name. He’s been in such films as Marley & Me, The Dark Knight and The Mist. While his role here isn’t the most challenging he certainly does carry it with the deft of a veteran. The surprise of the film is debutante Cozi Zuehlsdorff who plays his friend Hazel and possesses unteachable ease and charm onscreen.
The adult core gives you solid expected performances from the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman but the surprise of that bunch is Austin Stowell. Stowell is an actor who looks the parts of wannabe swimmer and war veteran but has emotional range. He should be taking roles from Channing Tatum over the the next few years.
This is a 3D film, however, the screening I attended was in 2D. It was shot 3D and not post-converted so I plan on seeing it as such. You may want to do the same for a break down of real versus fake 3D check this site.
Dolphin Tale is a film that effectively creates the world of its story and it is a very pleasant place to go for a visit. You will find yourself engaged in it and moved by it. I believe that much like Soul Surfer (but maybe with fewer detractors) it will win over audiences for many weeks to come.