It won’t be available for sale until next week but I just can’t wait to feature this terrific film. I have a copy to give away so if you’d like to enter, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with Dolphin in the subject line and don’t forget your address! I’ll pick a winner December 16.
Clearwater Florida’s star attraction Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail, plays herself in a heart-warming story that is one of the best family movies of the year.
The human characters are fictional, but Winter really did lose her tail and would not have survived without the development of a mechanical tail to allow her to swim. In this story, a nice connection is made not just between a lonely boy and the affectionate dolphin but between the two species who have to adjust to the loss of limbs and the use of mechanical replacements.
In this version, a boy named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) has become something of a loner after his father left and his favorite cousin Kyle, a swim champion, joins the military. He is unhappy about being sent to summer school. All he wants to do is tinker with his remote controlled helicopter in his workshop and wait for his cousin to come home.
On the way to school one morning, he sees an injured dolphin on the beach. He gently cuts her free and whistles to her to keep her calm until the Marine rescue team arrives. Later, he sneaks into the aquarium where she is being cared for and meets the marine biologist in charge, Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) and his young daughter, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff). Winter responds to Sawyer so well that they let him stay and help take care of her.
Hazel and Sawyer spend hours cradling Winter gently until she starts to try to swim. As Winter begins to get better, Sawyer starts to become a part of the community at the aquarium. His mother (Ashley Judd) is at first frustrated and angry that he has been ditching school. But then she realizes that he is learning far more from being with Winter at the aquarium than he could anywhere else. When Kyle comes back injured, both he and Winter will need to find the courage to confront their challenges. A lovably irascible doctor at Kyle’s VA facility (Morgan Freeman) thinks he can adapt the prosthetic technology they use to help the wounded veterans to give Winter a new tail.
And then just as Winter’s survival is on track, the survival of the aquarium and the marine program is at risk.
That’s a lot to handle, but writer/director Charles Martin Smith wisely keeps the focus on Sawyer and Hazel, and it is a treat to see their passion and optimism. Gamble and Zuehlsdorff have a lovely natural chemistry and the grown-ups in the cast provide able support. The story has a fairy tale quality, especially when it comes to saving the aquarium, and then the footage of the real-life disabled kids visiting Winter reminds us that the true story is even more magical.
If you like this, try: “Free Willy” and “Fly Away Home” and watch Winter on her webcam.