REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For 21st Century Media
The family drama, “Dolphin Tale 2,” reprises the basic formula of its precursor. Both films are inspired by events that took place at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida.
The original introduced Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), a lonely 11-year old boy with virtually no friends. As he bikes along the beach, he hears a fisherman, calling for help. As he rides over, he discovers that a bottlenose dolphin has become accidentally ensnared in the ropes of a crab trap.
They contact Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.), who runs the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. He takes in the newfound dolphin for treatment. His daughter, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) names the dolphin, Winter. Two prior dolphins, with the seasonal names of Summer and Autumn, were successfully treated and then returned to their ocean homes.
Sawyer sneaks into the veterinary hospital, where Winter is being treated. He encounters Hazel, Dr, Haskett’s daughter. The two strike an immediate bond. They are about the same age and each is being raised by a single parent. Sawyer’s father abandoned the family five years before and Hazel’s mother has died. Hazel allows Sawyer to surreptitiously visit Winter. Initially, Dr. Haskett disapproves of allowing Sawyer to make these visits. However, he notices that Winter reacts positively to Sawyer’s visits.
To make his daily visits to Winter, Sawyer has been skipping classes. He is required to go to summer school. After Sawyer’s mother, Lorraine (Ashley Judd) sees how much Sawyer’s mood is improved by his interactions with Winter, she withdraws him from summer school and allows him to volunteer at the hospital.
The blood flow to the caudal section of Winter’s tail was compromised by the ropes that entrapped it. Eventually, it turns gangrenous and must be amputated. Initially, it was assumed that Winter could learn to swim without a complete tail. She adopted a side to side motion, rather than the natural up and down motion. After looking at a radiograph, Clay determines that this aberrant motion would cause damage to her spine and eventually kill her.
They consult Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), who works in the prosthetics lab of a local Veteran’s Administration hospital. He convinces his supplier, Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, to design a silicone and plastic artificial tail for Winter.
As the sequel opens, several years have passed since the conclusion of the original, “Dolphin Tale.” Winter’s elderly surrogate mother at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Panama, has grown sick. Before long, she dies. Having lost the only poolmate that she has ever known, Winter is thrown into a funk. Her customary ebullient spirits evaporate and she rarely comes out to frolic. Winter even takes a swipe at her rescuer, Sawyer.
An inspector from the USDA (who knew that they had jurisdiction over dolphins?) visits the facility. He advises Dr. Haskett that since dolphins are social animals, under the applicable regulations, Winter can not be housed alone. (So…why is it that humans, who are also social animals, can be placed in solitary confinement?). Unless they find a new companion for Winter within thirty days, she will be taken from the aquarium and placed in an alternate facility.
Mandy, a sunburnt dolphin, is found washed up on a beach. Before long, she makes a recovery and is ready to be released back into the ocean. Hazel petulantly insists that Mandy should nevertheless be paired up with Winter permanently. However, Hazel’s dad, Dr. Haskett, reminds her that the mission of the aquarium is to rescue and release animals. This creates a lot of parent-child tension.
An alternative arises when an orphaned baby dolphin is discovered. The new arrival is named Hope. Now, the question becomes whether Winter and Hope will be compatible poolmates.
In the original, Morgan Freeman’s character played a pivotal role. His skill as a prosthetist and his connections with the Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics drove the narrative. Here, he is reduced to making silly suggestions about feeding bacon to Winter. When this is greeted by a skeptical response from Dr. Haskett, he remarks, “It works with my cat.” This epitomizes the level of the sequel’s inane dialogue.
The original “Dolphin Tale” provided a touching, uplifting story. The sequel tries to milk the poignancy of the underlying story for a second film. However, there is no substantive conflict or actual antagonist here. The USDA inspector is presented as an officious jerk. However, he is basically right. It would be cruel to house Winter all alone.
“Dolphin Tale 2” does possess a powerful epilogue. It presents documentary footage of young children and military veterans with prosthetic legs, who are visiting Winter for inspiration. It is hard to be unmoved by these scenes. However, this epilogue is manipulative and seems like a gratuitous addendum to the film. It doesn’t change the fact that “Dolphin Tale 2” is a stale retread.
“Dolphin Tale 2”: ** PG (for some mild thematic elements) 107 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.