DolphinTale2coverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes
2014, 107 min., Color
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD Copy

When you do the right thing, you don’t have to do it perfectly in order to make a difference. So I’m going to pick up a pocketknife and cut this film some slack, the way that its main characters have had to cut fishing line and nets off of trapped and disabled marine life.

Dolphin Tale was based on a true story and used a combination of CGI, animatronics, and real dolphins to tell the tale of Winter, a rescued animal that was fitted with a prosthetic tail and became a beacon of inspiration for physically challenged people everywhere. So many of them came to the Clearwater Marine Hospital to see her that the place not only survived its own bout with possible extinction, but also expanded to a full-blown aquarium to accommodate all the new interest. People who made this film thought it was a one-and-done, with no plans for a sequel. But when they realized that the story about the subsequent acquisition of a very young dolphin named Hope was just as interesting and actually intersected with Winter’s story, Dolphin Tale 2 was born.

The same cast returns, with singer Harry Connick, Jr. playing Dr. Clay Haskett, the amiable head of Clearwater Marine Hospital. Kris Kristofferson is his retired father who lives in a houseboat next to the hospital, while Morgan Freeman reprises his role as prosthetics expert Dr. Cameron McCarthy, and Ashley Judd returns as the mother of Sawyer, a young boy who formed a bond with Winter in the first film.

In the sequel, the boy and Dr. Haskett’s daughter, Hazel, have risen to positions of importance at the aquarium, and the three-year gap between the 2011 original and this film is especially evident when you look at the young actors. Nathan Gamble (Marley & Me) was 13 when Dolphin Tale was released, and his co-star Cozi Zuehlsdorff was younger still. Now they’re more poised and self-assured teens, and if the rule of thumb holds true for young actors—that they tend to appeal to an audience younger, not older than they are—it only means that the audience for Dolphin Tale 2 has grown right along with them.  

DolphinTale2screenBoth films are well done, though there are times when you’re reminded that you’re watching a family film when the screenwriters belabor a point or deliberately open the gates so emotion can slide in. But it could have been even more emotional. As with the first film, we’re shown actual footage of busloads of physically challenged children and adults with their own prosthetics who’ve come to see Winter. It’s powerful footage, but I think the filmmakers made the right decision not to play up that aspect in the film itself, other than including a cameo by surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm in a shark attack. It’s plenty inspirational without pushing the prosthetics to the forefront, and gives us characters and situations we care about.

In the first film, the hospital was in danger of closing; this time, they’re in danger of losing their star attraction after an old female named Panama dies and Association of Zoos and Aquariums rules dictate that dolphins not be kept alone. With only 30 days to find a new companion for Winter, hope rises and falls when a rescued dolphin comes to them, and rises and falls again when a very small (and cute as a bug) dolphin they name Hope is brought to their facility. In the meantime, Sawyer has been offered free tuition at a Boston College Semester at Sea program, and he has a tough decision to make.

Charles Martin Smith returns to direct the sequel and also wrote the screenplay, which has very few moments that draw attention to the writing. The story is told with great fluidity, helped by an emotional core, a significant side story, and some great underwater cinematography. Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 are this generation’s Flipper, and while you don’t have to have seen the first movie to appreciate the second, your family is going to want to watch them both anyway, so why not start with the first and build to this one?