By: The Cinephiliac (Five Beers) –
When I first learned that I would have to review Dolphin Tale, I was slightly angry but mostly depressed. I joked repeatedly with friends for nearly two weeks prior to the viewing that I’d rather indulge in self-mutilation than sit through a sappy melodrama about a tailless dolphin. I wasn’t prepared or willing to waste my time, energy and hard earned money watching what I expected to be a half-assed family film whose stars boasted Ashley Judd and lounge singer Harry Connick Jr. Yet after watching Dolphin Tale I found myself shocked at just how bad it actually was even exceeding my already poor expectations. Dolphin Tale made me wish I had a body of a water to submerge my head in until the film was over.
Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) is the only son of the recently divorced Lorraine (Ashley Judd). With little ambition and motivation in life Sawyer is barely getting by in school and forced to spend his summer taking classes. However, while riding home from school one day Sawyer stumbles upon a bottle nosed dolphin washed on shore and stuck in a crab trap. Sawyer swiftly rescues the dolphin before members of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium veterinarian take it under their collective wing. As time goes by, head doctor Clay (Harry Connick Jr.) and his team determines that in order for the dolphin, named Winter by Clay’s daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), to survive her tail must be cut off. Sawyer feels a deep personal connection with Winter and begins to help her recover, soon seeking the aid of prosthetics engineer Dr. McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) to create a tail for Winter so that she can live freely in an aquarium for the rest of her life.
Dolphin Tale is an interesting story of a disabled dolphin and the people around her who are desperate for her to live, working hard and creating accommodations for her. That notion alone is so endearing that only a heartless schmo would be unimpressed by Winter’s story. Director Charles Martin Smith does an impressive job of showcasing the personality that Winter possesses though close-ups of her eyes and focusing on her playful and at times human-like qualities, making Winter more human than most of the characters in the film. Furthermore, Dolphin Tale’s overall theme of disability transcends just Winter’s struggles as the film puts heavy emphasis on war veterans and children with disabilities who find inspiration through Winter’s hardships. Sawyer not only has to deal with Winter’s affliction but also the disability of his older cousin and idol Kyle (Austin Stowell), a former swim star whose time at war has left one of his legs paralyzed as he and his family learn to cope with it.
“Hey I was a star swimmer that everyone gloated about at the beginning of the film and then went to war. Did you really expect anything else to happen to me?”
The theme of disability is a fervent one throughout Dolphin Tale, therefore the film shamelessly attempts to tug at audiences heartstrings, making for a tasteless melodramatic tale that left me more queasy than heartened. When the film’s narrative is not being embarrassingly predictable, setting up events that happens exactly the way you expect them to, characters are either brooding in sadness or disgustingly chipper with optimism. Dolphin Tale plays out like an ABC Family movie except a bit cheesier. The film’s score alone was enough to make me chug a beer as it nearly screams at viewers to feel emotion during its designated scenes.
An entire beer is dedicated solely to Rufus, the veterinarian’s resident loud squawking seagull. As a running joke in the film, Rufus randomly appears in certain scenes to bring humor by aimlessly attacking characters. Had this film been rated higher than PG, I’m sure Rufus would have been the town drunk harassing every patron that enters the hospital for the first time. When a film’s main means of comic relief is an annoying screeching seagull that constantly chases and attacks characters while they try their best to play comically scared, then you know a film has failed.
“No please, I don’t do comedy well… have you seen Tooth Fairy?”
I saw Dolphin Tale in 2D forgetting that 3D was an option until a number of badly developed scenes take place making it obvious these moments of wasted space and story development were meant to wow those gullible enough to pay an extra six bucks. Sawyer’s main hobby is a building and flying model airplanes and in one horribly constructed scene he attempts to teach Hazel how to fly one. Because Hazel is a tween girl with no concept of direction, she doesn’t allow the plane to lightly lift off the ground, instead she sends the plane into a chaotic soar through the air, resulting in a pointless scene that follows the rogue model airplane as it dips and weaves in front of the camera and throughout the hospital. The scene was meant to impress those with 3D glasses, but I would have been more impressed had a model airplane been thrown into the faces of those in awe of the scene.
The last beer is needed just to get through such a thinly veiled slow-paced film. Dolphin Tale runs for a little over an hour and 50 minutes but by the hour mark I could feel tears welling in my eyes as boredom, aggravation and impatience with such a trite way of storytelling got the best of me. By the film’s closing credits I was the first to stand up admist teary eyed patrons and bolted to the door desperate to see and hear something other than a sappy tale featuring an over-sentimental pop song.
Dear Jason Mraz and your hat, please stop.
Sitting through Dolphin Tale was hard. I honestly stopped caring about the ending 20 minutes into the film because I already knew how it would end. Dolphin Tale is supposed to be a feel good family film, I get that and if you have younger children and just want them distracted for nearly 2 hours then by all means sit through this film. However, I can’t imagine how anyone over the age of 12 who’s seen more than 4 movies in their life could thoroughly enjoy Dolphin Tale. It’s only enjoyable if you have sometime of substance in your system.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: of celebration every time you see Morgan Freeman, he’s the film’s only hope.
Take a Drink: for every disability that’s emphasized.
Drink a Shot: every time something you think will happen actually does.