Released nearly three years ago, “Dolphin Tale” was a smart, sophisticated and sweet live-action family film with genuine heart. I was surprised when Warner Bros. announced they were making a sequel, wondering if this saga could support a franchise.
But since the first film was based on real life events, and more events took place in an around Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium that warranted a sequel, “Dolphin Tale 2” was made. And it tackles twice as many issues as the original. The aquarium is still run by Clay (Harry Connick, Jr.). And a much older Sawyer (16-year-old Nathan Gamble) and Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) are still taking care of “Winter”, the famous Bottlenose dolphin with the prosthetic tail. Winter has become an inspiration to many, and a symbol of the aquarium. Real life surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack (and was portrayed by AnnaSophia Robb in 2011’s “Soul Surfer”), appears briefly as herself, joining Winter in the pool.
However, Winter’s health is starting to become an issue. And things get worse when one of her companions dies (there are a few shots of the deceased dolphin at the bottom of the pool). Clay is tasked with having to provide Winter with another female friend, and soon, or she will be taken from the facility and re-located.
And then, Hope arrives. Literally. A tiny, abandoned Bottlenose named Hope is rescued by the team and brought to the aquarium. If you’ve seen the trailers for “Dolphin Tale 2” (and who hasn’t), you’d think this happens early in the film, but actually it’s not until almost an hour in.
Sawyer’s relationships with both Hazel and Winter are tested in “Dolphin Tale 2”. And in one of the best scenes, Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, who reprises his role as Dr. Cameron McCarthy, explains to Sawyer some of the film’s strong themes about growing-up, life’s many changes, and that when one door closes, an even better one opens. Freeman also delivers at least a dozen chuckle-worthy one-liners, including – “I’d never pass-up a free meal” and (when referring to the small dolphin) “I’ve pulled anchovies off of pizzas that were bigger than that.” Somehow, coming from Morgan Freeman, these lines work.
Also back from the first film, but with smaller roles, are Ashley Judd as Sawyer’s mom and Kris Kristofferson as Clay’s father. The focus of “DT2” is mostly on the kids and the animals, including the noisy and nosy seagull Rufus and his new rescued sea turtle friend Mavis.
There are some continuity errors, a few corny situations and structural issues, and the nicely shot underwater
scenes go on too long. As with the original, “Dolphin Tale 2” does its best to avoid being preachy, but it comes close at times. However, just as with last year’s NAVY Seals action drama “Lone Survivor”, the most effective part of “DT2” (and I’d never thought these two films would have anything in common) is the real-life footage at the end. We get to see how Hope was rescued (exactly 5 years and 1 day after Winter) and the impact these dolphins have had on so many lives. For animal lovers and those inspired by stories of these two dolphins, there are plenty of emotional moments.
“Dolphin Tale 2” is rated PG, and is one of the better live-action family films of the year. However, some scenes of danger involving the live dolphins (and the previously mentioned dead one) may be a bit intense for very little ones.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Dolphin Tale 2” gets a B-.