There’s no denying there’s a certain charm to “Dolphin Tale,” an unmistakable appeal that truly can draw in the entire family. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact source of its allure, it might have something to do with the fact that the film doesn’t blatantly infantilize its audience. Even though the humor only gets as original as it does in any other family drama, at least it isn’t strung together by an endless chain of bathroom jokes.

Dolphin Tale

At Quality 16 and Rave
Warner Bros.

Based on a true story, the plot revolves around the tale of a young bottlenose dolphin named Winter that learns how to swim despite having her tail amputated. In order to give this amazing story more of a feature film feeling, the writers (Karen Janszen and Naomi Dromi, “A Walk to Remember” and “Sleeping with a Bear,” respectively) incorporate Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble, “Marley & Me”), an introvert and outcast who helps rescue Winter and eventually develops a close bond with her. Also in the mix are Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr., “P.S. I Love You”), the veterinarian looking after Winter, and Dr. McCarthy (Morgan Freeman, “Million Dollar Baby”), the engineer who designs her prosthetic tail.

While these characters bring an interesting new dimension to the dolphin’s story, we end up seeing unrelated plotlines that never really complement the central narrative. And it’s a pity this happens because many of the themes in Winter’s story are much more than the usual harping about how industrialization is evil and harms our environment. The plot points about the constant threat of debt faced by non-profit animal hospitals and the lack of government funding they now receive are rarely touched upon in other films and add originality to this one.

What doesn’t add originality is the dialogue, which is boring, mundane and completely stereotypical. It doesn’t help that the acting is at most times forced and unexciting. Gamble plays Sawyer with polarizing bursts of emotion, sometimes changing pace from reserved and sullen to talkative within a matter of seconds. This is supposed to show a developing change in Sawyer’s personality but instead feels unnatural and makes it difficult for the audience to connect. Academy Award winner Freeman is given too little time on the screen to really have an impact on the audience, and his personality ends up getting sidelined like many of the smaller story lines in the script.

The final result is a weird movie that shines at various points but eventually looks dull and unimpressive. The real problem is that the movie tries too hard to be entertaining, taking away from the astonishing true story of Winter. Rather than relying upon what really happened, the writers and director give us too much perspective from characters that haven’t really been properly fleshed out and don’t really exist. Even though this film is a noticeable step up from the dreck we see every day in the family drama genre, it underperforms and becomes another forgettable movie.

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