Time Out says
Pack a few discreet hankies for this warm-hearted but schmaltzy family pic. ‘Dolphin Tale’ is based on the story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin rehabilitated at Florida’s Clearwater Marine Hospital after becoming tangled in a rope at sea. Regrettably, the dolphin has its tail amputated. But, in a rousing case of humanity, Winter’s carers – pulling out all the stops – persuade a prosthetics expert to mould a new tail for the perpetually smiley creature. Before long the mammal has become an inspiration to scores of humans with equally impeding disabilities.
Director Charles Martin Smith and the film’s writers transform the story into a sentimental bonding tale about a withdrawn, fatherless youngster called Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) whose own demons are exorcised by spending time with the recuperating mammal. Smith’s uneven ‘ET’-like cliché fest comes packaged with all the trappings of the earnest, melodramatic crowd-pleaser – even Morgan Freeman’s there, along with composer Mark Isham’s swooning strings. But as much as it grates, it still manages to warm the cockles.