Riding his bike to summer school Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) comes across a horrible sight, a beached dolphin tangled in ropes and attached to a crab trap. Using a tender hand and his pocketknife he frees the dolphin from most of the bonds that are strangling it. Rushing to his aid Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) takes the mammal to the Clearwater Marine Hospital where he finds that its tail has to be removed to save its life. Sawyer and Haskett's young daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) become emotionally attached to the aquatic animal. When Sawyer stumbles upon prosthetics doctor Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), he comes forward with a plan.
The acting here is quite good. Newcomer Zuehlsdorff puts on a very good comical show as the daughter of Dr. Haskett with her continuous jabber about her knowledge of the Marine Hospital and the animals it contains. She's a sweet breath of fresh air in a role that seemed to be written for her. Playing opposite her, Gamble plays it straight working hard to keep Sawyer a key role among the greats like Connick Jr. and Morgan Freeman. His role doesn't need much creative acting being a boy who saves Winter from death twice.
Freeman draws a walk-on character, the man who develops the prosthetic tail that saves Winter from an untimely death. There's not much to his role here, but I am glad they chose him for this family movie as he ups the cast value by a ton. Connick Jr., best known for his music, plays it safe as the animal doctor who saves Winter from dieing from a gangrene type injury and bringing to light that all mammals are important. His character needed a smooth easygoing kind of actor and Connick Jr. fits perfect.
The movie comes together quite well under the direction of Charles Martin Smith although I found the progression of time and events questionable. His best feat comes with the depiction of Hurricane that nearly whipped out the Clearwater Marine Hospital. Covering his location with debris following simulated damaging winds (and some stock actual footage) being a Florida resident it looked very realistic,
Keeping the cast from running amuck with their own style, Smith puts on one of the best animal inspirational family films I've seen in a decade. He works his audience with an emotional story putting his characters in a difficult position of possibly having Winter put to death with only blind luck saving the day. He depicts Florida's seaside much like the days of old when the television show Flipper made northerners want to move to the state and live the good life.
Dolphin Tale is rated PG for mild thematic elements. The film is perfect for families and offers good values for the youngsters. Theaters are showing the film in the 3D and 2D format, both are excellent values.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A kid friendly film that they can flip over.