A kids' movie without condescension, Dolphin Tale never loses track of its most valuable asset: the squeaky marine mammal that inspired its story. Winter the bottlenose plays herself in this scrappy underdog (or is that underdolphin?) drama about a young outcast named Sawyer (Gamble) who befriends the injured animal. Snagged in a crab trap off the Florida coast, Winter ends up losing her tail and struggles to survive without it. Inspired by the treatment given his wounded Iraq veteran cousin, Sawyer recruits a prosthetics-specialist doctor (Freeman) to create a dolphin-friendly appendage. While volunteering at the marine hospital, the reclusive kid begins to open up, befriends a manic pixie dream-girl-in-training and finds a father figure---not to mention possible date for his single mom (Judd)---in the genial, hunky head of the organization (Harry Connick Jr.).
Told in broad strokes with simple characters, Dolphin Tale is not the stuff of a crossover hit with grown-up audiences. But you'd have to have a heart of stone to not be moved by the nonfiction footage of disabled children and war vets finding inspiration in Winter. And the underwater scenes of Sawyer playing with the dolphin are gorgeous, a cinematic daydream of interspecies connection.
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