Movie Review

Dolphin Tale 2

Rated – PG

Genre – Drama

Cast – Harry Connick Jr. as Dr. Clay Haskett; Nathan Gamble as Sawyer Nelson; Cozi Zuehlsdorff as Hazel Haskett; Ashley Judd as Lorraine Nelson; Morgan Freeman as Dr. Cameron McCarthy; Kris Kristofferson as Reed Hasket; Austin Stowell as Kyle Connellan; Austin Highsmith as Phoebe

Director – Charles Martin Smith (Dolphin Tale)

Distributor – Warner Bros.

In Theaters – September 12, 2014

Reviewer – Paul Asay

The bottlenose dolphin was found tangled up with a crab trap when she was just three months old. Her injuries were so severe that vets from Clearwater Marine Aquarium had to amputate her tail. For a dolphin to lose that is typically a death sentence. But through the hard work and ingenuity of the Clearwater staff—especially Winter’s new best human friend, Sawyer—and the hefty heart of Winter herself, she survived, propelled by a state-of-the-art prosthetic rudder.

But it turns out that a dolphin needs more than a tail to survive. Winter needs companionship, too. And with no offense to Sawyer or any other biped walking around Clearwater, sometimes only another dolphin will do.

Panama, Winter’s old tankmate, has died. The government, knowing full well how important companionship is to dolphins, threatens to move Winter to an aquarium in Texas, to be with those of her own kind. It looks like the Clearwater Aquarium may lose its No. 1 resident—and the attraction that keeps it financially afloat.

Unless, of course, another female dolphin can be found to keep Winter company. Now that’s a quest with a porpoise.

Positive Elements

Winter may be only a dolphin, but her story has inspired countless humans, many of them with disabilities, to keep moving forward. David Yates, the real CEO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, can rattle off dozens of them—from children missing legs to soldiers traumatized by war. “It’s amazing how God can use a little dolphin like this to change thousands of lives,” he told Plugged In while the film was being shot.

Dolphin Tale 2 shows many people whose lives have been impacted by the plucky bottlenose dolphin—both fictional characters, like a wounded war vet sporting a prosthetic leg, and real people in documentary footage at the end. We also see the devotion of Winter’s human helpmates, particularly Sawyer. The boy—now a teen—continues to be Winter’s life vest, coaxing her into wearing her tail and encouraging her to eat. When Winter hurts Sawyer, he blames himself. And when she sinks into a deep depression, Sawyer contemplates giving up a chance of a lifetime—an opportunity to study marine wildlife aboard a sailing ship for three months, all expenses paid—to make sure his favorite amputee is going to be OK.

But Sawyer could use some support, too, and he finds it, especially, in best friend Hazel. The girl—daughter to the fictional aquarium’s CEO, Dr. Clay Haskell—is a gregarious, tenderhearted soul who weeps over the death of a (different) dolphin and would do almost anything to keep Winter safe at Clearwater. But when there’s a choice to be made about keeping a healthy animal as Winter’s companion, Hazel eventually sides with her principled father: The healthy dolphin has to be released into the wild. “You didn’t build this place to keep animals,” Haskell is told. “You built it to let them go.”

Really, everyone here works for the benefit of the animals and one another. Sawyer’s mother, Lorraine, encourages him to take advantage of his great opportunity—even though she’s a little sad to see him growing up. She gives Hazel some timely words of wisdom, too. Dr. McCarthy works overtime to fit Winter with a new tail and offers encouragement to Sawyer in his own curmudgeonly way. Dr. Haskell is always looking out for the best interests of the creatures in his care—including his daughter, showing a willingness to give her greater responsibilities. Bethany Hamilton (the young and courageous surfer whose arm was bitten off by a shark and who served as the basis for the movie Soul Surfer) is given an extended cameo, lending even more inspiration.

While some of the characters here have conflicting agendas, you won’t find any villains: Just good people trying to do good things in the best way they know how.

Sexual Content

Sawyer and Hazel are teens now, and as such, the air around Clearwater doesn’t just smell of the sea these days: There’s a whiff of romance, too. Though the two don’t do anything more than look into each other’s eyes, Hazel may be just a wee bit jealous of some of the other adolescent girls who’ve apparently taken a shine to Sawyer.

Because of the aquarium environment, we see people wearing swimsuits and curve-hugging wetsuits.

Violent Content

No one grieves more for Panama (when the older dolphin dies) than Winter, and she sinks into a serious funk, flipping out and hitting Sawyer with her beak. (He subsequently wears a brace on his wrist and sports bruises on his face.) A rescued sea turtle has a bloody gash on its flipper, and it seems as though a pesky pelican is trying to have a massive turtle snack at one point. When Winter and her new potential tankmate first get together, they have to quickly be separated before they seriously hurt each other.

Crude or Profane Language

“Darn” and “gosh” are as far as the script allows the language to stray.

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Other Negative Elements

Hazel and Sawyer both clash a little with their respective parents. When Sawyer’s mom asks if he’s made a decision regarding his seafaring opportunity, he snaps, “When I have an answer, I’ll say so.” And when Clay makes what Hazel feels is the wrong decision—one that might lead to Winter being sent away—Hazel is absolutely furious, refusing to talk with her pops except in a harsh, furious head-shaking sort of way.

Conclusion

Dolphin Tale 2—like Winter’s prospective pool partner—is smaller than the first. In the original Dolphin Tale, the stakes were no less than life-and-death for Winter, the health and well-being of Sawyer, and the future of the aquarium itself. This movie finds both of them doing better than that. Sure, no one wants to see Winter move to Texas. For his part, Sawyer doesn’t really want to leave Clearwater either—despite the fact that studying wildlife with a bunch of college students is a chance he can’t really pass up. But the good work both did in the first film hasn’t been undone in the second.

And that, in many ways, is a great thing. The story picks up, naturally and realistically, where the last left off. (Which only makes sense, given that both movies are based on Winter’s true story.) You might not feel an urge to bite your nails while watching, but the story’s still a compelling, beautifully shot voyage that gives its young target audience exactly what it wants: dolphins and people who care about one another while making it easy for us to care about them.

Dolphin Tale 2 is as clean as a freshly scrubbed tank, as wholesome as Hazel’s freckle-faced smile, as sweet as Winter would find a pail full of herring—without there being a single red one in the batch.

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