Flipper may be the biggest dolphin movie star of all time but he’s not the only dolphin in Hollywood’s great big sea. Winter, star of “Dolphin Tale” and its new sequel, is a close second.
Winter is an injured bottleneck dolphin rescued off the Florida coast who was taken in by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida. He lost his tail to infection but a VA prosthetic designer, an Iraqi war vet and the caregivers at her new home were determined to put a new end on this tale. She now swims with the aid of a silicone and plastic tail, and is the star attraction at the aquarium and the subject of two movies.
The new film sees Sawyer (Nathan Gamble, who has perfected the “concerned face” method of acting) and Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), the two dolphin loving kids from the first film, come back for more rousing sea mammal action. This time out they and the good folks at the Clearwater Marine Hospital (including Harry Connick Jr. and Kris Kristofferson), search for a companion for the lonely dolphin when Winter’s old partner passes away. Also making return visits are Ashley Judd as Sawyer’s mom, Morgan Freeman as Dr. Cameron McCarthy the designer of Winter’s prosthetic tail and Rufus the Emotional Pelican.
Like the first film “Dolphin’s Tale 2” is a wholesome family movie for the entire clan. Messages about dealing with grief and loss are woven into the story, but the film is more about uplift and inspiration.
Sometimes too much so.
For instance, Connick Jr. officially plays the biologist who runs the aquarium but, in reality, is a living embodiment of Father Knows Best. He always seems to know exactly the right thing to say and do which gives the film the feel of a 1950s family drama. Reaching hand over fist for emotional moments, “Dolphin Tale 2” relies a bit too heavily on inspirational children’s movie clichés—any movie that features Bethany Hamilton romping with dolphins is unafraid of embracing its redemptive soul—but does so without an ounce of cynicism.
The two F’s are front and center—family and friends—along with lessons in determination and fighting for what you believe in. Good stuff all round, if a little ham-fisted in its presentation.
“All I did was teach you not to cover her blowhole,” he says.
“I wouldn’t have known that,” she laughs.
No, that’s not the punchline to a bad joke, it’s part of the easy banter between Dolphin Tale 2’s teen stars Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff. They were preteens when they first worked together on Dolphin Tale, the story of Winter, an injured dolphin rescued by the Clearwater Marine Hospital and fitted with a prosthetic tail.
“My character didn’t really get to go underwater in the first one,” says Cozi, “so it was all, almost, a new experience. Winter and Nathan were the veterans and they taught me and Hope (the second movie’s dolphin star) the ropes.”
Like not covering the blowhole.
Dolphin Tale 2 is a continuation of Winter’s tale. This time around Sawyer and Hazel and the Clearwater Marine Hospital folks search for a companion for the lonely dolphin. “Think about it,” says Nathan, “has there ever been a sequel to a true story? And one that is also true? It’s pretty rare.”
The second movie’s story was inspired by a true event that happened during the wrap party for the first film.
“That’s when we got the call that Hope was rescued,” says Nathan. “We were there and so it feels like we were a little bit part of the story.”
“The truck pulled up and Hope was really carried by hand up to the pool,” says Cozi, “and really lowered into the pool the way you see in the movie. It was incredible. (Dolphin Tale 2) is as true-to-life as you could get without saying it was a wrap party for a movie. That wouldn’t have fit into the story.”
What does fit into the movie is Nathan’s relationship with Winter, a bond formed years ago.
“There was this one moment on the second one where we were just hanging out,” he says. “I did this thing where I tilted my head and said, ‘Hey Winter, how’s it going?’ She bubbled at the surface and sank to the bottom. Her trainer said, ‘That’s really bizarre,’ and then remembered that was one of the behaviours I gave her on the first film and they haven’t done that since the first film. That means she remembers me doing it three years ago, which is really bizarre.”