2011’s family friendly Dolphin Tale was a well-received dramatization of the true life story of Winter, a wild dolphin who lost her tail in a crab trap. The feel-good tale offered kids some food for thought on the themes of recovery and disability, while simultaneously granting adult viewers who had happened to watch 2009’s The Cove a kind of therapeutic reintroduction to dolphin-based cinema.
The earlier film felt like a story that deserved to be told – the young Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) finds Winter beached and injured, and forms an unlikely bond with her. Her life at Clearwater Marine
Hospital is in jeopardy until Nathan manages to wrangle and cajole the prosthetic expert Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) to attempt the audacious task of building an artificial tail for
Fast forward a few years and the cast is reassembled with all the added complexities that young teenage years could possibly bring. Winter is back in action, but her companion dolphin – who
acted as a kind of surrogate mother – has just died, and now Winter is acting out. Sawyer is the only person that Winter will respond to but his world is just full of adolescent dilemma: the don of
a famous marine biology school has flown out to his house to make him an offer of a scholarship he can’t refuse, but if he takes that it will mean walking away from Winter. There’s also a matter of his loyalty to Dr. Clay (Harry Connick Jr.) who runs Clearwater Marine Hospital, along with his daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) who is starting to catch Sawyer’s eye.
If that was the entirety of the plot, there would be enough to go on to happily fuel 90 minutes of engaging-enough schmaltz. Unfortunately some cack-handed storytelling leads to a narrative
that grows to be as twisted and complex as a stray fishing net cast adrift in a particularly rough sea. When another dolphin, Mandy, is rescued, who could be a perfect match for Winter, Sawyer
is forced to confront yet another dilemma: should they keep Mandy in captivity to save Winter, even if she is now well enough to be released into the wild? Add in the return of Morgan Freeman
for some sagely life advice involving his grandfather’s pocket watch, and a liberal sprinkling of Kris Kristofferson, who routinely appears to just nod judiciously with his hands on his hips in the way that only Kris Kristofferson can. And then there is a health inspector’s visit (played by director Charles Martin Smith) cranking up the pressure, a sea turtle that needs an MRI scan, and several other lovable but ultimately unnecessary scenarios that drag this film on to almost 2 hours.
You could adopt a little more of a live and let live attitude to the narrative foibles of Dolphin Tale 2 if the plot was just a fancy ribbon tying up a nice bundle of underwater shots, but the non-human
element of the film is pretty much on the same substandard par as the rest of it. It is an unnecessary sequel that may have its heart in the right place, but has very little to say. The most authentically engaging and moving elements of the film are the real life camcorder clips of children and adults that use prosthetics visiting Winter that roll through the credits. Against a recent streak of films aimed at kids that managed to nail the task of providing both thought-provoking content and an engaging story, this is a bit of a belly flop that should only be seen if your child has a genuine obsession with cetaceans.