Dolphin Tale 2

Posted on September 11, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2014
Copyright Warner Brothers 2014

The warmest, wisest, most pleasurable live-action family film of the year is “Dolphin Tale 2,” even better than the 2011 original. This really is that rare movie for the whole family.

The first film was inspired by the true story of Winter, a rescued dolphin who was able to thrive in Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium after an innovative new prosthetic tail helped to protect her spine and allow her to swim. She has been an inspiration to millions of visitors in person and via webcam, especially to wounded veterans and other adults and children with disabilities. In the original, directed by Charles Martin Smith (Terry the Toad in “American Graffiti” and Farley Mowat in Never Cry Wolf, a sensitive loner named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) bonds first with the wounded dolphin and then with the staff who care for the marine animals, especially aquarium head Clay (Harry Connick, Jr.) and his pretty daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff). Ashley Judd played Sawyer’s mother, Kris Kristofferson played Clay’s houseboat-dwelling dad, and Morgan Freeman played crusty Dr. McCarthy, who figures out how to make the prosthetic comfortable and stable.

Everyone returns for this follow-up, and this time Charles Martin Smith does triple duty as writer, director, and actor, appearing as a strict but not unsympathetic USDA official responsible for making sure the facility meets federal standards in caring for the animals.   He may refer to Winter at CMA1108, but he is trying to do what is best for her.

The kids have gone from middle school to high school. They are now experienced marine animal specialists, and spend most of their time at the aquarium, much of that in the water. We see how capable and knowledgeable they are when they assist in the rescue of an injured dolphin they name Mandy and a sea turtle ensnared in fishing line they dub Mavis. And we see how deeply they care for the animals when the veteran of their dolphin population, a 40-year-old deaf dolphin who is “paired” with Winter, dies suddenly. This is more than a sad loss. Dolphins are deeply social creatures. If Winter cannot or is not willing to be be paired with another dolphin, she will die.  The USDA inspector says that if they cannot find a friend for Winter in 30 days, she will have to be moved.

Mandy’s arrival seems providential. But then the best thing happens, which is also the worst thing. They are able to restore Mandy to health.  But that means that she can no longer remain in captivity, which is just for animals who can no longer take care of themselves.  The motto of the facility is three words: rescue, rehabilitate, release.  “You didn’t build this place to keep animals,” Clay’s father reminds him.  “You built it to heal them and let them go.”  The wrenching task of weighing those competing considerations is sensitively presented as a moral issue, an economic issue, and as a part of growing up that Hazel and Sawyer must understand.  It is an issue of more complexity than we normally get to see in family films, and it is presented with exceptional insight.  A scene where Hazel follows Sawyer’s mother’s advice to speak to Clay the way she would like to be spoken to is a small gem that got some appreciative laughs of recognition from the audience. Smith knows his audience, though, and expertly seasons the storyline with cute animals, especially Rufus the pelican, who is back for more comic relief. Even with Rufus, though, the slapstick moments are just part of the story.  His protective concern for Mavis is genuinely touching.

A storyline about whether Sawyer will accept an opportunity to take a special semester at sea is less intriguing.  But Gamble’s quietly sincere and thoughtful performance grounds the film, with Zuehlsdorff (who provides a sweet song over the closing credits) more ebullient, but never less than completely real and in the moment. The completely natural performances of the two leads perfectly matches the sun-drenched naturalism of the setting, utterly at home in the water, interacting with the dolphins, or struggling to grow up. When Dr. McCarthy sits down next to the conflicted Sawyer to hand him a family heirloom, Sawyer says knowingly, “I’m about to get a lesson here, aren’t I?” He is, and we are, too, but it is a good lesson and it goes down easy. So does the film, ambitious in scope but light in presentation. And it is no disrespect to the movie to say that the best part is the closing credits, where we see Wounded Warriors and other people with disabilities coming to visit Winter and Hope for inspiration and, somehow, a sense that they are being understood and cared for.

Parents should know that this film includes mild peril, some scenes of animal and human injuries and a sad animal death.

Family discussion: What was the lesson of the watch? What were the best reasons for releasing Mandy? For keeping her? Did they make the right decision?

If you like this, try: The original film — and watch Hope and Winter online

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Animals and Nature Environment/Green For the Whole Family Inspired by a true story Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel Stories About Kids

Cozi Zuehlsdorff’s New Song for “Dolphin Tale 2” — “Brave Souls”

Posted on August 26, 2014 at 12:23 pm

I’m really looking forward to “Dolphin Tale 2,” even more so after seeing this music video by Cozi Zuehlsdorff, the young actress who reprises her role as Hazel from the original film. Cozi’s song, which she wrote and performs herself, is called “Brave Souls” and in this video she explains how the “Dolphin Tale” movies and their stars, the dolphins Winter and Hope, inspired the lyrics.

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Music Shorts

Winter the Dolphin: The True Story

Posted on September 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Winter the dolphin plays herself in this week’s terrific family film, “Dolphin Tale,” directed by Charles Martin Smith.  While the movie’s human characters are fictional, the story of Winter is true, and Winter herself is already a star, having appeared on the Today Show, CNN, and the BBC.

Winter was only three months old when she was hurt by getting tangled in a crab trap line.  She lost her tail and two vertebrae as a result of her injuries.  As explained in the film, without a tail for balance and steering, a dolphin will sustain severe spinal injuries.  Dr. Mike Walsh and Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics created the artificial tale for Winter, and she has adapted very well.  The Clearwater Marine Aquarium website explains:

How, you might ask, does one go about preparing a dolphin for a prosthetic tail? It certainly is challenging: attaching a complete fluke and joint onto an inexperienced dolphin had never been done before, but it was a challenge we felt good about! When we first started to train Winter to allow us to put the prosthetic on her body, we found Winter took to the process quite well. However, the series of approximations, or learning steps took some time. Over the course of several months, Winter learned the correct body position to be fitted for a stretchy, plastic sleeve, one that is also used for human prosthetics. Her trainers have creatively fashioned a more form-fitting version of the sleeve – it works wonders although it looks strange to say the least! The sleeve, in its original form, is ultimately used to attach the prosthetic fluke to her peduncle. After the sleeve is in place on her peduncle, the muscular part of a dolphin before the tail-flukes, we are in turn able to put the prosthetic on top of the sleeve. Once the prosthetic is in place, we check to ensure a snug and comfortable fit. We will ask Winter to swim with the prosthetic for a lap or two around the pool and re-check the fit of the tail before we start the workout! Tail flukes are the powerhouse of the dolphin. Without her prosthetic, to compensate for the absence of flukes, Winter utilizes her entire body in order to propel herself forward, moving from side-to-side like a shark. Behaviorally, our goal is to use the prosthetic as a cue or “discriminative stimulus” to swim in a normal up-and-down fashion working all muscles that surround the peduncle while still maintaining her ability to swim comfortably when the prosthetic is off. In our latest sessions, we attempt to convey the idea that calm behavior is the name of the game; persuading a playful animal to pay attention is like trying to get a pre-schooler to be studious. Our training process with the prosthetic tail is an ongoing process. As mentioned earlier, it takes many creative minds to build what is ultimately the best for the animal.

As the footage at the end of the movie shows, Winter has been an inspiration to disabled children and veterans learning to adapt to their own prostheses.  Clearwater Marine Aquarium has resources for kid who want to learn more about dolphins.  And you can follow Winter on Twitter: @winterdolphin

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The Real Story

Interview: Charles Martin Smith of ‘Dolphin Tale’

Posted on September 21, 2011 at 8:00 am

Before he was a director, Charles Martin Smith was a teen actor who appeared as “Terry the Toad” in “American Graffiti.”  He starred in Carroll Ballard’s “Never Cry Wolf” and appeared in films like “The Untouchables” and “Starman.”  While he continues to appear as an actor, he has most recently been more active as a writer and director.  He did both for his new film, “Dolphin Tale,” opening this Friday, inspired by the true story of Winter the dolphin, who now has a prosthetic tale.   It was a delight to talk with him about breaking the first rule of show business (“don’t work with children or animals”), what he learned from George Lucas, and why the color blue is so important in this film.  He made me laugh as soon as we met because he started “directing” where we would sit.  “I often say I became a director because I like to boss people around,” he told me, “but it’s just a line.”

They say it’s always a problem to work with kids and animals, but in this movie you did both.

I might be the only filmmaker that really gravitates toward that.  I really like working with kids.  And I really like working with animals!  They’re so pure and honest and they’re never really acting, at least not in my movies.  Well, maybe Rufus .  People sometimes try to impose things on them, a character they have in their own mind.  I think it’s much more interesting when working with an animal to find out what that real animal does and try to capture their essence and their behavior.  It’s almost a little bit of a documentary type feel.  We’ve got the real Winter playing the real Winter.

Have you worked with dolphins before?

I haven’t.  I’ve been interested in them and interested in science.  You hear all about how intelligent they are but you can’t comprehend it until you really spent time with them.  They’re certainly as bright as we are.  The first thing I did when I got involved with the movie was go to Clearwater, Florida to spend time with Winter, just to observe her behavior.  She does all kinds of interesting things.  She’s very playful; she loves toys.  She’s still young, the equivalent of a 10-year-old kid.  She loves her blue mattress and her rings.  So we put that in the movie.  I wanted to give her a special ring with something cute and iconic so I thought we’d give her a yellow duck — do you know how many different versions of rubber ducks there are?  We spent months designing this thing.  The expense we went to!  She makes that Tweety Bird sound all the time, so I said, “Put it in the movie!”

And working with kids?

I like kids.  I find them fascinating.  They give you real things.  Since I began as a child actor I understand what they’re going through and it’s great to see them blossom and learn.  I am not just a director but an acting coach and teacher on set and I love that.  I really made an effort to keep the kids real, to act like real kids.  So many movies have “movie kids.”  I didn’t want to do that.

There were no kids in the true story but when Alcon developed the project they wanted it to be kid-centered to make it more accessible.  I wanted to bring something of a magical quality to it, some wish fulfillment.  How many kids have their own dolphin?  Having the aquarium be this grand, mystical place that Hazel has complete run of and where she knows all the turtles and dolphins.  And the houseboat, so she had a fun place to live with a crows nest she could decorate herself.  And Rufus.  All to bring a slightly magical fantasy element.  I originally conceived Rufus as a seagull, but Alcon suggested a pelican — a true collaboration. 

And two 11 year olds save the day.  It would not really happen that way, probably, so that is a little bit of a fantasy, too.  But that made it even more important that the kids were grounded in reality and acted like real kids.  When Clay tells them he has to close down, Hazel runs.  Kids don’t want anyone to see them cry.  Cosi (who plays Hazel) is amazingly gifted, so good, so real, as good as any adult actor I’ve ever worked with.  She had just been in community theater, never done anything in movies or television.  And she’s a good kid; they both are.  They both come from very religious families, Christian families.  They’re such good kids.  I’ve never had a set before with no profanity, not even from the crew!

You did an amazing job of achieving a really sun-drenched look that really felt like Florida.

The wonderful cinematographer was Karl Walter Lindenlaub.  He did a lot of big sci-fi films like “Independence Day” and “Stargate” and he did a Scottish film, “Rob Roy” that showed he could do lovely things outdoors.  We talked a lot about the hot look and we certainly had hot weather.  I wanted a sort of sci-fi feeling to the movie, that first scene, under water.  We meet the pod under water and see how inquisitive Winter is.  I wanted to see the world she comes from. In a way, it’s like another planet, an alien from one planet that washes up, stranded, on another and is rescued by a boy.  I wanted to do that with the look of the film, too.  I wanted the underwater to be all blue and rich.  And then we made the neighborhood drab, and took all the blue out of it, all oranges and rusts and earth tones.  And then the aquarium is a blue building — which it really is.  And inside, that’s a set actually, he walks in and sees all the blue, watery, rich look and it’s like he’s underwater.  Then he goes back to his world and it’s all brown again.  But gradually we had some blues show up in his clothes to show how his worlds were coming together.

What did you learn from the directors you worked with as an actor?

I picked up stuff from everybody.  I worked with a lot of great directors.  George Lucas was very good in the way he directed young actors on “American Graffiti.”  He’s not generally thought of as an actor’s director.  But one of the things he did was cast good actors and get out of our way.  I learned so much about the importance of casting.  But he said, “I wrote the script; you can change any line you like.  I have an in with the writer!”  Some directors want every single word done the way it was written but that’s too stultifying to a child.  And he would ask us what was comfortable and organic and honest for us he wanted to do and he would build the scenes around that.  But the one I learned the most from was Carroll Ballard.  No one deals better with the subject of nature and man’s collision with wildlife than he does.  The way he edits, structures things, he’s always been my hero.  Every day on this movie I would think, “What would Ballard do if he were here?”

I loved the real footage at the end.

That was what I saw the very first day, seeing children with disabilities coming and being inspired by Winter.  The editor, Harvey Rosenstock, got the footage and cut it together beautifully.  It was so good we didn’t want to run it with the credits over it.  It works too well; it’s too beautiful.

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Directors Interview
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List: Winter Sports

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 3:49 pm

In honor of the Olympics, take a look at these classics about winter sports competitions:

The Cutting Edge A spoiled figure skater (named Kate as in “Taming of the Shrew”) and a working class hockey player team up in this romantic comedy on skates starring Moira Kelly and D.B. Sweeney. This was the first screenplay by “Michael Clayton’s” Tony Gilroy.

Miracle Sportscaster Al Michaels unforgettably called out “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” as the 1980 US Olympic hockey team beat the Russians. They then went on to win the gold medal. And so the team, the last group of amateurs sent by the US to play ice hockey, has been known ever after as the “Miracle on Ice.” Kurt Russell plays coach Herb Brooks and this movie shows us that the real story is better than a miracle because it is about a team that succeeded through heart and hard work and commitment. If it is a miracle, it is in the “God helps those who help themselves” category. Be sure to watch the documentary, “Do You Believe in Miracles?” as well.

Ice Castles A young figure skater on the brink of becoming a champion loses her sight in an accident and has to start all over. Melissa Manchester sings the hit theme song, “Through the Eyes of Love.” The remake, starring Taylor Firth, will be out on DVD this week.

Cool Runnings One of the biggest long shots in history was the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 winter Olympics. Yes, Jamaica is a tropical country and no, Jamaica does not have any snow. But a fast start is important in bobsledding and it does have sprinters. The actual footage of the real team’s crash is featured in the film. And while a lot of it is fictional, the grace and panache of the team is based on the real story. And they will be back for the 2010 games.

Downhill Racer Robert Redford plays an arrogant skiier who clashes with his coach (Gene Hackman) in this film, which captures the focus of the athletes and the exhilaration of the sport, filmed on location in the Alps.

Sonja Henie: Queen Of The Ice and It’s a Pleasure Real-life gold medalist Sonja Henie went on to become the highest-paid performer (we won’t say “actress”) in Hollywood for her very successful series of skating films. No one paid any attention to the plots even then, but the skating scenes hold up well and the documentary about her life as an athlete and performer is worth seeing.

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