Dolphin Tale – Not An Oscar Winner, But Still A Winner

by Yo Snyder

Animal films, whether they’re based on a true story or not, follow a
pretty familiar formula, so I understood why my kids made a direct
comparison between Dolphin Tale and Free Willy (which they
recently saw for the first time). Many of the story beats are very
similar and both films have that feel good vibe to them. However, I’d
have to agree with my kids on Dolphin Tale being the better of
the two. Maybe it’s because it’s based on a true story, but it felt more
genuine and its saccharine sweetness didn’t come off quite as much of a
contrivance as the killer whale movie. Of course saying something is
better than Free Willy isn’t exactly launching it into the
stratosphere of greatness. This movie won’t win any Oscars any time
soon, but despite that I thought it was enjoyable and rather
interesting. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to be able to enjoy a movie with
so much goodness and heart.

In 2005, a young dolphin was found in a lagoon near Cape Canaveral.
She was tangled up in a crab trap, and although she was rescued,
extensive damage to her tail fin meant it had to be removed in order for
her to survive. That survival, however, was uncertain at best without
her tail, yet incredibly, she did survive and even learned to swim
without a tail (which proved to be dangerous to her health) and
eventually with a prosthetic one. The story soon caught the attention of
the media, and ever since, Winter has been a source of inspiration for
millions of people, many with disabilities of their own. Yeah, there’s
pretty much no way Hollywood could pass up on a story like that.

Fortunately, Dolphin Tale turns out to be much better than I
expected. As I said, no one here is winning an Oscar any time soon
(which is okay, because Morgan Freeman already has one), but there’s
sincerity and heart poured into this film that makes it hard not to
enjoy and helps it overcomes some of the technical shortcomings that
gives it a DTV feel.  The kid actors are typical kid actors, Ashley Judd
and Harry Connick Jr. put in sincere but unremarkable performances, and
Morgan Free lends his usual charm and warmth to a role that calls for
him to be charming and warm. The story hits all the familiar beats a
story like this should hit with these types of characters, which lends
it that Free Willy feel, but when the story focuses more on
what’s happening with Winter than the people is when it’s at its best.
These are the moments that feel the most sincere, believable and
uncontrived. You can’t help but cheer for Winter to overcome not just to
survive, but to thrive, and in doing so you just might find something
within yourself that also believes it can find the strength to overcome.

One of the best lines of the movie is when Morgan
Freeman states in a charming manner with warm wisdom to a character
struggling with his own disability after returning from Afghanistan,
“You’re hurt, not broken.” I think thats true for more of us than wed
like to admit. Regardless of whether the wound is physical or not, a lot
of us have been hurt and therefore we feel like were broken, and
therefore useless. Well that just isnt true because there is a loving
God who specializes in healing the hurt; and even if you feel like you
are broken, hes also pretty good at repairs. Sometimes that may mean a
physical miracle because, yes, this God is still a God of the
miraculous. Sometimes that may mean mending our heart or changing our
perspective. Sometimes, it may mean getting the focus off of us and onto
others; to take a look at how our experience can help and encourage
others. The point is if a dolphin can learn that hurt doesnt mean
broken, and broken doesnt mean unfixable; surely we, creatures created
in Gods image to have a personal relationship with our loving Creator,
can also learn just how true that is.

Now I
don’t know about you, but I enjoy good movies. Not just good in the
technical sense, but good in the goodness kind of sense. Dolphin Tale
has good people doing good things for good reasons. Some find it harder
to suspend disbelief for that than dancing penguins, but I found it
refreshing. Sure there are times when the movie is so cliche that you
can’t help but roll your eyes a little bit and when it’s so sweet your
teeth may start to ache, but the bottom line is it’s enjoyable, it’s an
intriguing story that made me want to learn more about the actual
events, and it’s one I could watch worry-free with my little girls and
gave us plenty to talk about afterwards. That makes it a solid,
worth-while trip to the movies in my book.

Score: 5 of 7