With the likes of Free Willy and Fly Away Home, it seems that Dolphin
Tail Tale is a film taken straight out of the nineties, following all the inspirational animal movie clichés of its predecessors.
But is that really such a terrible thing? Have you no heart?
One summer, grade-schooler Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) finds Winter, a beached dolphin whose tail had been caught it a crab trap. Eventually rescued by the local Marine Hospital, Winter loses her tail to infection and must learn to survive without one.
Through the story of an animal, all the characters, including the audience themselves, learn more about humanity… and themselves. Clichés abound. The story is simple enough, nothing new or groundbreaking there. But when Winter and Nathan share the screen, the academics of the film don’t seem to matter so much anymore.
Nathan Gamble plays his character, an awkward and ostracized kid who finally finds something he truly believes in, to perfection. He’s got all the nuances down pat that you can’t help but start seeing yourself playing out the scenes in the film thru him. His restrained performance easily out-acts veterans Ashley Judd, his mother, and Morgan Freeman, the prosthetics expert tasked to fabricate Winter a tail, who gave hammy performances, playing their roles just that little bit over the top.
Winter, the actual dolphin whose story the film is based on, is wonderful in the film. I must commend director Charles Martin Smith for deciding to shoot as much of the dolphin live, hardly ever using CGI as a substitute, banking a lot of the film’s emotional pull with the on-screen chemistry of the dolphin. Though there are one too many Nathan-&-Winter-swimming-together moments, you can’t deny its honesty.
But the film isn’t all tears and swelling of hearts. It’s got its own goofs and gags. There is Rufus, a pelican living on the roof (Get it? There’s a pun there somewhere.) of the Marine Hospital, provides most of the physical comedy. There’s also Morgan Freeman, who refuses to learn Winter’s name, and keeps calling it a fish.
Dolphin Tale is far from a perfect film. In fact, it’s barely a film at all. It does have all the ingredients needed in making a film: story, characters, dialogue, music, etc. But they all seem to have been put together robotically, as if an instruction manual, an old one at that, told the director where to put what. There’s the mirroring of Sawyer’s injured G.I. brother to Winter’s handicap. There’s the animal hospital with no funding, run by good people. There’s spunky, clumsy Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) who becomes friendless Sawyer’s unlikely buddy. The film’s got all that going for itself, but it all falls flat.
This film would have done great in the early nineties, but is quite out of place today. Transplanting a two-decade old formula to the 2000’s just doesn’t work anymore. It just doesn’t stand up. There is much better modern material to show your children. And if you’re watching the film for your ten-year old self, I suggest you just rewatch your favorites. But if you really really want to, go ahead, just save yourself some cash and don’t watch it in 3D.
PARA SA MGA TAMAD MAGBASA:
Strong and heartfelt interactions between a boy and his dolphin, but little else. A film that came out a decade late-if you love the 90’s, maybe you’ll love this. Maybe.
EDITOR’S NOTE: When he’s not opening his heart to the healing power of boys and their dolphins, Cinematographer Mackie Galvez is out shooting shit. Yee Haw! Get it? Because shoot can mean two differe-ah forget it. Check out his official site and showreel here.