Rating: PG. Running time: 1 hour 52 min.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 1; Language 1 ; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (0-5): 4
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
For those looking for a family film that avoids the cuteness that spoils so many of the child and animal genre films director Charles Martin Smith has just the ticket. Similar to, but better than Free Willy, this film is based on a true story about the combined efforts of adults and children to rehabilitate a tailless dolphin.
Eleven-year-old Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) is a Floridian very depressed since his father abandoned the family. Not even his older cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), a high school champion swimmer to whom he is devoted, can pull him permanently out of his slump—and soon Kyle is deployed by the Army and sent overseas. Then one day Sawyer is at the beach and sees a dolphin entangled in the net of a crab trap. As the boy kneels beside the animal a bond forms between them. Later Sawyer goes to the Clearwater Marine Hospital where the dolphin has been taken and placed in the care of marine biologist Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.). The doctor at first orders what he considers to be a young nuisance to leave, but when the boy sneaks back in, the doctor’s daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), about the same age as Sawyer, lets him come in. She sees what a close bond has developed between the two, and soon the good doctor does also. Sawyer is on hand when Dr. Haskett has to amputate Winter’s (as they name the dolphin) because of a bad infection. After he recovers, Winter manages to swim by wiggling his body, but this would not be enough to permit him to survive in the wild. Indeed, the unnatural action will eventually damage Winter’s spine. And so the team works long hours trying to create an artificial tail for Winter.
Matters for Sawyer take a bad turn when Kyle comes back so badly injured that he is wheelchair bound. He becomes as despondent as Sawyer once was, even telling his cousin to go away and leave him alone. And yet it is through him that Sawyer meets Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) at the V.A. hospital. An expert in prosthetics, Dr. McCarthy agrees to work with the team trying to help Winter. During the long process Kyle is drawn out of his funk as he realizes that he and Winter have such similar needs. It takes a long time, with many trials and errors before the dolphin will accept and use a prosthetic tale, the film thus teaching the necessity of perseverance and discipline. Indeed, the team has to struggle against the ravages of nature, with a bad storm damaging the Marine Hospital so badly that its trustees believe they must shut it down because there is not enough money for repairs. Then comes the ole “Let’s put on a show” campaign which helps spread the word of the plight of both the perky dolphin and the Marine Hospital.
Young and old who love animals and appreciate their intelligence—especially of dolphins, will enjoy the film. Like God, as depicted by the Psalmist, the characters in the film care deeply about animals, and one helpless one in particular. The eventual results will warm every viewer’s heart, especially during the end credits while viewing the footage of the real dolphin and his friends. The film seems tailor-made for a family DVD library.
The full review (with a set of discussion questions is in the Jan/Feb. 2012 issue of Visual Parables.