Dolphin Tale is, we’re told, inspired by a true story, but it plays like a formulaic family film. That’s not necessarily bad; formula, when done well, can be effective, and Dolphin Tale is ultimately moving and inspirational. But it mixes in some odd messages along the way. Sawyer’s mom (Ashley Judd,Tooth Fairy) is strict with Sawyer about his school attendance until she sees him with Winter. Quickly doing an about-face on her earlier position about the importance of attending class, she approaches Sawyer’s teacher and makes the case that he’s “engaged”—not with a Gameboy, but “with something alive and beautiful.” The teacher, wisely, doesn’t make a special exception for Sawyer—until he does, allowing Sawyer to complete the course on his own terms. The decision represents a 180 for the teacher, too, who had earlier claimed that making an exception for Sawyer would be unfair to his other students.

There’s also a heavy-handedness to the movie’s message about overcoming injury. Both Kyle and Winter struggle with the adjustments they’re forced to make after bodily injuries, but rather than leaving the obvious parallel unstated, the film spells it out by introducing yet another character with a physical challenge. The young girl, confined to a wheelchair, sees Winter and declares the dolphin is “just like me.”

Other moments are forced and obvious—like giving Connick’s character an oddly staged scene in which he grabs a saxophone and plays some jazz; or the casting of Kris Kristofferson (He's Just Not That into You) in a role that requires next to nothing from the veteran actor; or a hurricane-fueled finale that feels both perfunctory and superfluous.

But when the story’s ending hits all the right notes, it’s easy to forgive—and to forget—the things that might make you squirm along the way.

Dolphin Tale isn’t in the same league as other family films like Fly Away Home or The Black Stallion—visual epics with a narrative nuance that hold up to repeated viewings—but it’s a good family film, especially for younger viewers who need more choices at the movie theater. Choosing to see Dolphin Tale won’t hurt—and just might help—to get more family movies in the pipeline.


  • Language/Profanity: “Crappy.”
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: None.
  • Sex/Nudity: Bare-chested male swimmers; boy in a bath towel.
  • Violence/Crime: Wounded veterans shown; a character jokes that thinking about spending time with his family “makes me want to sharpen the cutlery.”
  • Marriage: Sawyer’s father left five years earlier and doesn’t call or write; Hazel’s mother died earlier.
  • Religion: A tale told about a goddess.

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at