If you are like me, movies that star children and animals are not normally on your "must see" list. Be sure to make an exception for Dolphin Tale – an inspiring, empowering story about damaged lives and how love, family, and a very inventive prosthetics designer bring healing and hope.
Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) is a boy who is experiencing a season of loss. His father has abandoned him, his best friend and favorite cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) is about to be deployed to the Middle East, and Sawyer has been sentenced to summer school. His life is looking pretty bleak. While riding his bike along the beach, he encounters a dolphin, whose tail is entangled in a crab trap. And it is this chance encounter that changes his life, and the lives of those around him.
The dolphin was fortunate to beach herself in Clearwater, Florida, the home of the Clearwater Marine Hospital. The rescue team arrives, led by Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.). They cut her loose, transport her to the marine hospital, and christen her "Winter." But nothing can be done to save Winter's tail. Without the ability to swim properly, complications set in, and Winter appears doomed.
In the meantime, Sawyer has bonded with the crew at the hospital and with Winter. Together with Dr. Haskett's daughter, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), Sawyer sets off in search of help, which comes in the eccentric form of Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), a human prosthetics specialist. Sawyer talks him into coming to the hospital to meet Winter, to see if he might be able to help.
All of this would sound fantastic, if it were not actually inspired by a true story. There is a real Winter who lives at a real Clearwater Marine Aquarium. And while most of the characters in the film are either fictional creations or amalgams of the real people who aided this amazing creature, at its heart, the story is true. It is about our relationship with the planet over which God has given us dominion, our abilities as sub-creators in trying to mimic God's handiwork, and how our love for one another can help us to overcome obstacles and find purpose and happiness.
Dolphin Tale is a joy to watch. The children act like kids. The parents are responsible and in charge, but flexible enough to let their children participate in important ways. And Winter, who plays herself (aided by a little bit of computer graphics and a very realistic animatronic double in a few scenes), is a delight.
As summer comes to a close, and fall is knocking at the door, spend a couple of hours with Winter, and feel the warmth of this wonderful film.