DIR/WRI: Charles Martin Smith • PRO: Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Steven P. Wegner • DOP: Daryn Okada • ED: Harvey Rosenstock • DES: David J. Bomba • MUS: Rachel Portman • CAST: Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff
Gentle, sincere, and well-intentioned to a fault, Dolphin Tale was a modest box-office hit in 2011, capturing family audiences with the (mostly) true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin rehabilitated at Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium after losing her tail in a crab trap. Dolphin Tale 2 now offers more of the same, with the added comfort of familiarity, continuing the story as Winter’s keepers attempt to find her a suitable companion and enable her to remain at Clearwater. If this sounds exceedingly mild, that’s because it is. In fact, one of the problems of Dolphin Tale 2 is that its narrative is simply not as gripping as its predecessor’s, which had the development of Winter’s prosthetic tale as a genuinely suspenseful through-line. By contrast, Dolphin Tale 2 is more diffuse, and somewhat lacking in urgency, with Winter’s prospective companion, the juvenile Hope, not appearing until the film’s second half.
In addition to writer/director Charles Martin Smith, almost all the cast of the first instalment return, although the adult performers are given little to do, with Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman and especially Kris Kristofferson given just a handful of scenes apiece. As the teenagers who care for Winter, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff acquit themselves earnestly, although as “human interest” they are necessarily secondary to the film’s main attraction. The dry land action, of which there is too much, also presumes a familiarity with the first film that may leave some younger viewers confused.
The film’s shortcomings as drama are compensated for by the animal footage. Winter (playing herself) is an affecting presence both with and without her prosthesis, while Hope – who is not visibly handicapped but will spend her life in captivity as a result of early separation from her mother – is equally appealing. Also featured are a boisterous pelican sure to charm children, and a remarkably beautiful sea turtle, named “Mavis”, whose eventual release into the wild provides the film’s sole instance of animal action within a natural habitat. Elsewhere, as the film is concerned exclusively with animals in captivity, the most arresting footage is that showing close-quarters interaction between dolphins and humans. Winter and Hope’s early encounters are fascinating to behold, despite being staged, while an early scene between Winter and Bethany Hamilton (a surfing champion who lost an arm to a shark, and here appears playing herself) intriguingly blurs the boundary between documentary and fiction feature, without labouring the parallels between the performers. In fact, the greatest appeal of Dolphin Tale 2 lies in its refusal to anthropomorphise the dolphins. We are repeatedly reminded that they are wild animals, and the limitations of their lives in captivity are not shied away from.
Refreshingly even-paced, Dolphin Tale 2 credits its young audience with a degree of intelligence not always catered to by contemporary children’s entertainment. Its educational content is smoothly integrated, and is certain to spark the interest of budding marine biologists, while the moral lessons about responsibility and perseverance are not heavy-handed and feel genuinely earned. A final montage of documentary footage showing Clearwater’s real-life work with disabled children and war veterans makes for an affecting close, though it is somewhat marred by a blaring soundtrack accompaniment that tries rather too hard to force us into the air to clap our flippers.
G (See IFCO for details)
Dolphin Tale 2 is released 3rd October 2014