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When Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) discovers a beached dolphin with a badly damaged tail on a beach near his Florida home, he finds an instant connection. The dolphin's need becomes a bridge between them as Dr Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr) at the nearby Clearwater Marine Hospital tries to nurse the animal - christened Winter - and Sawyer virtually becomes Winter's carer. But without a tail, a dolphin's chances are slim. It's only when Sawyer's cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) comes back wounded from a tour of war duty and Sawyer is introduced to prosthetics guru Dr Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) that the idea of a prosthetic tail is born.

Review by Louise Keller:
You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this uplifting, heart-warming tale, about a dolphin that learns to swim with a prosthetic tail. Based on real events, the film is a bit schmaltzy and manipulative, but its heart is definitely in the right place, engaging its family audience with its uplifting, inspiring elements. Be warned: take a tissue.

The central story is one about an injured dolphin discovered on a beach by Sawyer (Gamble), an 11 year old youngster, who is going through a crisis of his own. Much of his issues are to do with his absent father, exacerbated by the fact his idol, swimming champion cousin Kyle (Stowell) is about to go to war. Life changes for young Sawyer, when the dolphin (named Winter), with whom Sawyer bonds when he helps cut the ropes to set him free, suddenly gives him a purpose.

Swimming with a dolphin probably figures on just about everyone's wish list, and the scenes in which boy swims with dolphin in the marine tank are beautiful. They swim, play, splash, cuddle and the dolphin looks cool reclining on a lie-low.

Juxtapositioned beside the dolphin tale are the other story strains: the little girl without a mother, the injured soldier dealing with his disability and Harry Connick's handsome widower who runs the Florida marine hospital that is going through tough financial times. Morgan Freeman plays the unconventional prosthetics designer and there's an implied romance between Connick and Judd's single mum. Kris Kristofferson adds grit as the wise granddad who tells tales about dolphins, goddesses and rainbows.

It would be easy to find fault with some film elements, as clichés accumulate and the predictable outcomes gather momentum, but there's something true and real about this charming story with a moral to never quit, that hits its target.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Inspired by a wonderfully inspiring true story, Dolphin Tale has all the right ingredients for a family movie with adorable dolphins (and some other marine animals) and the plucky youngster who plays a major role in the feel-good plot. It would have been even better if the film hadn't been made with such a heavy hand and so many obvious plot points, which combine to drag out the screenplay to an unwarranted 113 minutes. The pace holds back the emotional hits, and there are too few of those.

The highly ranked cast seems a bit wasted with all-too predictable surface characteristics. Even young Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) is burdened with direction that makes him seem retarded in the opening scenes, supposedly because he's still damaged from his father's walk-out five years earlier. His lack of responsiveness is irritating and inauthentic. Things improve the moment he meets Winter the dolphin - a tad too enthusiastically, perhaps.

Ashley Judd has a thankless role as his mum, with wooden lines and a total personality by-pass. Harry Connick Jr doesn't fare much better as the marine doctor, and it's up to Morgan Freeman as a prosthetics expert to breathe some life into the show. The subplot about Sawyer's cousin Kyle feels as though it was stuck on with band aid to provide the vehicle for the prosthetics material - even if it really happened that way.

Young Cozi Zuehlsdorff is far too precocious as Hazel, while Kris Kristofferson plays her seafaring grandpa with detachment, and hardly shows any of the charisma for which he was undoubtedly hired.

When the time comes for the uplift and the payoff, it feels rather manufactured and contrived, although it would be churlish to rebuke the filmmakers for wanting to jerk a few tears from us. They've managed to wrap up the dolphin's tail with a newfangled synthetic material as well as pat resolutions for both Winter and the boy, plus his cousin, and even the marine hospital.

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Mixed: 2

(US, 2011)

CAST: Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr, Nathan Gamble, Kris Kristofferson, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Austin Stowell, Frances Sternhagen, Austin Highsmith, Betsy Landin

PRODUCER: Richard Ingber, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove,

DIRECTOR: Charles Martin Smith

SCRIPT: Karen Janszen, Noam Dromi

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Karl Walter Lindenlaub

EDITOR: Harvey Rosnestock

MUSIC: Mark Isham

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Corenblith

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 15, 2011

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