Dolphin Tale

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild thematic elements
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Injured human and animal characters, offscreen wartime violence, recovering human and animal amputees, discussion of parental loss and abandonment
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 23, 2011
Date Released to DVD: December 12, 2011 ASIN: B004EPZ01G

It won’t be available for sale until next week but I just can’t wait to feature this terrific film.  I have a copy to give away so if you’d like to enter, send me an email at with Dolphin in the subject line and don’t forget your address!  I’ll pick a winner December 16.  

Clearwater Florida’s star attraction Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail, plays herself in a  heart-warming story that is one of the best family movies of the year.

The human characters are fictional, but Winter really did lose her tail and would not have survived without the development of a mechanical tail to allow her to swim. In this story, a nice connection is made not just between a lonely boy and the affectionate dolphin but between the two species who have to adjust to the loss of limbs and the use of mechanical replacements.

In this version, a boy named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) has become something of a loner after his father left and his favorite cousin Kyle, a swim champion, joins the military.  He is unhappy about being sent to summer school.  All he wants to do is tinker with his remote controlled helicopter in his workshop and wait for his cousin to come home.

On the way to school one morning, he sees an injured dolphin on the beach.  He gently cuts her free and whistles to her to keep her calm until the Marine rescue team arrives.  Later, he sneaks into the aquarium where she is being cared for and meets the marine biologist in charge, Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) and his young daughter, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff).  Winter responds to Sawyer so well that they let him stay and help take care of her.

Hazel and Sawyer spend hours cradling Winter gently until she starts to try to swim.  As Winter begins to get better, Sawyer starts to become a part of the community at the aquarium.  His mother (Ashley Judd) is at first frustrated and angry that he has been ditching school.  But then she realizes that he is learning far more from being with Winter at the aquarium than he could anywhere else.  When Kyle comes back injured, both he and Winter will need to find the courage to confront their challenges.  A lovably irascible doctor at Kyle’s VA facility (Morgan Freeman) thinks he can adapt the prosthetic technology they use to help the wounded veterans to give Winter a new tail.

And then just as Winter’s survival is on track, the survival of the aquarium and the marine program is at risk.

That’s a lot to handle, but writer/director Charles Martin Smith wisely keeps the focus on Sawyer and Hazel, and it is a treat to see their passion and optimism.  Gamble and Zuehlsdorff have a lovely natural chemistry and the grown-ups in the cast provide able support.  The story has a fairy tale quality, especially when it comes to saving the aquarium, and then the footage of the real-life disabled kids visiting Winter reminds us that the true story is even more magical.


Parents should know that this film includes parental loss and abandonment, off-screen war-related injuries and post-trauma depression, dolphin tail amputation and problems adjusting to prosthetic.
Family discussion: Why was Winter so important to Sawyer?  Why was it easier for him to be with her than with other people?  What does it mean to say “you probably haven’t found a subject that interests you yet?”  What can you to to help support and learn more about marine creatures?

If you like this, try: “Free Willy” and “Fly Away Home” and watch Winter on her webcam.


Related Tags:


3D Action/Adventure Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Inspired by a true story Stories About Kids

7 Replies to “Dolphin Tale”

  1. I saw Dolphin Tale this morning with my girls and they absolutely loved it! Such an inspiring story and we loved that it was based on a true story. I already got some Dolphin Tale T Shirts for my them!

  2. We just saw this movie with our 13y.o. daughter and we all loved it. While no one will confuse it with an action-packed thriller or laugh-a-minute comedy, I’d highly recommend it for a family movie night. I would add to your thoughts about this movie that it portrays well the idea that important things don’t always come easily. The movie also avoided cliche by not using the possibility of a romantic encounter between the children’s single parents. It appropriately kept the focus on the children, the dolphin and the injured soldier/cousin. A great story, well told–what more do we want from a movie, after all?

    1. Exactly right, Nancy! I complimented Smith on refraining from putting in an adult love interest in the film when I spoke to him.

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