Dolphin Tale 3D has family film written all over it. It is a true story. Dolphin Tale stars an animal with a will to survive that inspires while children and adults band together to save what conventional wisdom says cannot be saved.
The humans of the Tale are top notch actors. Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Harry Connick Jr. are the adults while Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff are the two kids at the center of the story. Director Charles Martin Smith, himself a former child actor, has a firm grasp on what makes a family film work and employs it to its fullest, including a stellar command of 3D.
The pieces all come together beautifully and frankly, quite cutely. Yes, it is based on a true story, but that story is not what audiences see onscreen. This part of the story is completely and inspiringly true. Winter the dolphin, washed up on a Clearwater, Florida beach with her tail severed from a crab trap. Rushed to a nearby marine hospital and saved, it is determined that without a prosthetic tail, Winter will die from over-exhaustion, lacking a tail to properly swim.
In Dolphin Tale, Freeman’s expert in prosthetics is found by Gamble and brought to Winter’s side to access whether he can build what they need to save Winter’s life.
The rest of the story is well documented, and even knowing that, Smith has crafted a family film that is fun, factual and fictional -- something that adds up to a good day at the movies with the little ones.
Dolphin Tale does have its slightly schlocky moments. The pelican with attitude works with the kids, and gets old with the adults over 90-plus minutes. Yet there is a beauty to much of the film. That especially rings true when the camera heads underwater showcasing Gamble and his connection with Winter. That the overly crafted tear-jerking moments still get you, because of that beauty and an innate human love of animals explored in Dolphin Tale, doesn’t feel so bad.
There’s a subplot tossed in involving a cousin of Gamble’s character who was a champion swimmer who returned home from war in a wheelchair. The real Winter has inspired thousands of amputees and that is one of the true miracles of her story. In Dolphin Tale, that storyline embodies that aspect.
As we stated, Dolphin Tale is a family film worthy of bringing along the family. That is where filmmakers were inspired to take the story of Winter. In that endeavor, they succeeded. Adults on their own heading into Dolphin Tale may want to explore something less sugary sweet. Although on this particular day of screening, Movie Fanatic was in the mood for some good sweets.