Dolphin Tale Review
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While summer is a time for big-budget thrills, fall is a time for quiet dramas—the kind of stories that tug at your heartstrings and make your eyes well up. For grown-up movie lovers, there are plenty of options. At this time of year, in fact, there’s a new one (or two or three) in theaters every week. For kids, however, there’s the lovably sappy aquatic drama, Dolphin Tale.

While on his way to summer school one morning, 11-year-old Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) helps a fisherman rescue a dolphin that washed up on the beach after getting caught in a crab trap. The dolphin is taken to the Clearwater Marine Hospital, where Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.), his staff, and his daughter, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), try to nurse her back to health. Concerned about the dolphin (who’s given the name Winter), Sawyer starts visiting the hospital every day to help care for his new friend.

Winter survives the incident—but, unfortunately, her tail does not. As Dr. Clay and his staff try to care for the disabled dolphin, Sawyer tries to find a way to help her swim again—and he finds help from an eccentric doctor (Morgan Freeman).

With a movie like Dolphin Tale, you know exactly what you’re going to get long before you buy your popcorn and soda and take your seat. It’s a schmaltzy family-friendly drama, with a couple of lovable kid stars, a quirky character or two for comic relief (this time, it’s a freeloading pelican named Rufus), and some tear-jerking drama that’s guaranteed to choke you up in the end.

It’s formulaic, manipulative stuff, loaded with characters who are somehow down on their luck—like Dr. Clay, who’s struggling to keep the hospital from going out of business, or mopey young loner Sawyer, who feels abandoned by both his absentee father and his cousin, who’s recently joined the military. It’s the kind of stuff that you’d find on a Lifetime Original Movie—complete with some unnatural dialogue and some awkward acting—and it’s about 20 minutes too long. Yet, despite its flaws, it’s still effective.

No matter how hard you try to resist, you’ll find yourself caught up in the story of this downhearted kid who finds happiness and friendship with some help from a tailless dolphin. It’s sappy, but it’s cute, with adorable young stars and an inspiring sea creature that will make you want to plan a trip to Clearwater, just so you can see her for yourself. And small but respectable performances by Judd and Freeman help to give the film a little bit of cred.

It may not be an instant classic, but Dolphin Tale is a cute, kid-friendly film—a sappy but sweet little drama about family and underwater friendship.

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