For the second week in a row, I had two choices. Dolphin Tale 2: the sequel to a trite kids movie full of structural issues or No Good Deed. Since No Good Deed looked like what would happen if you tried to re-enact Labor Day at home (i.e. oh no, a bad man is trying to kill me!), I opted for the more upbeat option.
A teenage boy stands to lose his disabled dolphin friend if the aquarium can’t find a female playmate for her by the government deadline.
The big problem with Dolphin Tale was that they took a great true story about a disabled dolphin learning to swim again and pushed it into the background so some little kids could make trite speeches. Thankfully, the sequel is much better. It’s moving instead of trite and adorable instead of annoying. Cuteness for the whole family.
Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) the pointless kid from the first movie, is now about 15 or so and a dolphin trainer. His best friend Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) has become sort of an adjutant veterinarian. They keep hinting that Sawyer and Hazel could be MORE THAN FRIENDS but punk out on actually going through with it. They spend all their time at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is owned by Hazel’s dad Clay (Harry Connick Jr.) Its main attraction is Sawyer’s special pal Winter, a dolphin with a prosthetic tail.
SAWYER: Hey, if we were real teenagers left alone this much…
HAZEL: We’d totally be doing it.
WINTER: Dolphin chaperone!!
But when Winter’s companion Panama dies of old age, Winter gets depressed and the government gives them 30 days to find a her a new friend or they’ll take her away. Luckily they just rescued a sunburned dolphin named Mandy. Unluckily (for Winter) Mandy is well enough to survive in the wild, so technically she should be released. It’s a pretty sticky ethical question – and a great Teaching Moment for your kids.
MANDY: So, Winter, you ever gonna get your own place or what?
The aquarium’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release wounded animals and the parts of the movie that actually involve this are very moving. Thankfully there’s a lot more of it in this one than in the last one. There’s also a lot more screentime for Winter’s work inspiring amputees – one-armed surfer Bethany Hamilton of Soul Surfer even makes an appearance.
Dolphin inspiration squad!
Sawyer’s disabled cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) who should have been the protagonist of the first film, is still hanging cheerfully around in the background so kids can have someone nearer their own age to star. Also still hanging around: Sawyer’s mom Lorraine (Ashley Judd), prosthetics designer Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), and Hazel’s grandfather Reed (Kris Kristofferson) – their only job is to offer sage advice at key points in the movie.
Uh, yeah. Put some ice on that.
Anyway at the last minute they get a call about a stranded dolphin. A baby. Too young to be released back into the wild after they rehabilitate her. They name her Hope and try to pair her with Winter. The question now becomes: will they like each other? What will Hope make of Winter’s missing tail? We all KNOW how it will turn out, of course, but we still need to watch it happen.
If there’s anything cuter than a dolphin, it’s a baby dolphin.
So dolphins, dolphins, and more dolphins! Charles Martin Smith, the director of Dolphin Tale, has taken over the writing for the sequel and fixed most of the problems I had with the first one. Sawyer still has a subplot – he’s debating whether or not to leave home for a few months to spend a semester on a sailing ship – but the movie doesn’t end with people clapping for him. It ends with people clapping for the dolphins.
BECAUSE WE WANT DOLPHINS, DAMMIT.
It’s still not a perfect movie, though. Because they insist on having children star in the movie, there are ridiculous scenes where Hazel orders around grown-up veterinarians in the operating room and Sawyer lectures to a room full of marine biologists about stuff they should already know. The scenes are meant to enlighten the audience, not the adult characters, but it’s still annoying.
As Morgan Freeman’s character says: “I have jars of peanut butter older than you.”
Judging from the documentary footage during the end credits, the filmmakers kept animal-related parts of the movie pretty much true to life. Sawyer and Hazel are not real, but they’re not so annoying this time around that I can’t deal with them. Smith kept the focus on the dolphins, which solved a lot of the triteness and structure problems they had with the first one. And made me like it a hell of a lot more. Go see it. It’s cute.