Dolphin Tale (Blu-ray Review)

The end of 2011 brought us War Horse and We Bought a Zoo, which were films that really poured on the sentiment.  They were also films that I overall liked, mainly because their aim to be well-meaning and sweet-natured did not affect my judgment on other aspects of the films to arrive at an appropriate decision.  Again, having sentiment is not a bad thing, if it stems from somewhere that doesn’t just feel like a film being manipulative for the sake of generating emotions.  Dolphin Tale is fine.  There is nothing that really makes it great, but nothing that really highlights its flaws.  It is a cute movie, with the benefit of a charismatic cast to make up for its shortcomings.  The real story that the film is based around helps matters a bit and I am sure families can appreciate the film’s Blu-ray presentation.


Dolphin Tale is the story of a dolphin who is saved by a group of very caring people.  Nathan Gamble stars as Sawyer Nelson, a young boy who is struggling in school due to the absence of his father.  One day, Sawyer discovers an injured dolphin on the beach (the film is set in Florida), and manages to call for help.  The dolphin, eventually named Winter, is taken in by Clearwater Marine Hospital, an underfunded facility ran by Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) and his family.  Sawyer learns that Winter’s injury has lead to her tail needing to be amputated.  Given that Winter responds positively around Sawyer (and the other way around), Sawyer begins to spend all his time at the Marine Hospital.

The remainder of the story revolves around the struggle to help Winter and in keeping the Marine Hospital open.  A key part of this revolves around Sawyer recruiting a specialist in prosthetics, Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), attempting to develop a prosthetic tail for Winter, so she can swim and survive in the water, on her own.  Various other heartwarming developments occur as this story runs its course.

For some reason, I feel the need to point how much a cute movie like this does not really bother me.  I was fine watching it and can appreciate the audience that it is for.  The only real issue was not really feeling anything for the supposed stakes of this story.  It is purposefully designed to be a family friendly film, with mild drama surrounding the Dolphin’s handicap and the possible closure of the Marine Institute and that’s fine.  Nothing felt affecting enough to have me really invested in the film, but I held some interest in it.  I can appreciate that the Dolphin’s story is real and this is a dramatization of it (more so due to the actual dolphin, Winter, being used in the making of the film), but it is not one that left me feeling very uplifted, as opposed to just satisfied enough by its end.

Some of the actors help.  Morgan Freeman shows up halfway in, which certainly brought up the entertainment level for me.  Harry Connick Jr. had a surprising amount of screen presence for the well-meaning dad; doing all he needed to without overemphasizing his actions.  Ashely Judd is fine in the plain mom role, which is a nice break from some of the darker stories she seems to pop up in (which also star Freeman, come to think of it).  Nathan Gamble has enough enthusiasm to make me not focus on how the film wants us to believe in the level of communication he has with Winter.  So yeah, the likable cast does help things overall.

The fact that the film was presented in 3D in theaters is quite noticeable here in home viewing.  Things do pop up into the camera quite a bit, which adds to the playfulness of the tone of the film.  There seemed to be a notable amount of CG as well, but that was not too distracting.  Really, the most distracting element of this film was its aggressively happy ending, where everything works out for everyone.  It is fitting enough for a film like this, but even in putting away possible cynicism, it’s hard to look past how surgery sweet everything turns out.

Dolphin Tale is perfectly acceptable as a family film.  It does not tread any new ground or go above in beyond in the way the story is presented, but it means well and is likable enough.  Knowing more about how involved the parties connected to the actual story (including Winter) certainly helped my overall opinion of the film, as does the fact that Morgan Freeman makes practically anything better.  It is slight, but acceptable enough fun for all ages.  And who doesn’t like dolphins?


The Blu-ray for Dolphin Tale is fitted with a good looking 1080p AVC encode video transfer.  For being a film that spends a lot of time both above and below water, it is nice to see enough clarity on both fronts.  Given that the film is set in Florida, I also seemed to notice a lot of skin textures were particularly bright and full of color, which actually felt a bit off.  The CG was definitely noticeable as well, but that’s not a fault of the Blu-ray.  Still, I found enough in the details in the scenery of the film along with a lot of other great uses of color throughout, especially when dealing with the marine life to get a lot out of the video transfer.



The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track for the film is quite good.  The film relies on both dialogue and the splish-splash (yes, I went there) of Winter moving through water and it comes through pretty nice and clear.  The audio mixing is well-handled, providing for a balanced listen throughout the film.  I guess this would be a good enough time to highlight the encouraging score of the film.  It comes through clear and is fitting of the tone of the film.  A good audio track overall.

Special Features: 

I could have gone lower with this score, but I was honestly impressed with the features provided on this disc.  It has a couple features for kids and provides just enough insight that should be as entertaining as the film is for families.  Plus they are all presented in HD.

Features Include:

The Hutash Rainbow Bridge – Animated short about the legend of Rainbow Bridge, narrated by Harry Connick Jr.

At Home with Winter – Behind-the-scenes look at the real Winter’s home at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida.

Dolphin Tale: Spotlight On a Scene – See how the filmmaker combined amazing underwater 3D footage with stunning visual effects to create the opening sequence. (I wouldn’t quite say stunning)

Winter’s Inspiration – The true story of the real Winter’s rescue and how the advances made in creating her prosthetic tail have helped human amputees.  I would say this is a pretty strong featurette.

Ormie and the Cookie Jar – Pig see cookie, pig want cookie.  Meet lovably persistent pig Ormie in this original animated short.  This was a fun enough little cartoon.

Additional Scene

Gag Reel

DVD Copy of the Film

UltraViolet Digital Copy

Final Thoughts: 

There is nothing really wrong with this film.  I enjoyed it enough for a viewing, but don’t necessarily need to see it again.  That said, I can see families enjoying this film and getting into the story that is presented.  It helps that the film features a good cast and does well at incorporating the true story elements without seeming too schmaltzy.  Certainly helping is the fine Blu-ray presentation of the film.  The audio and video are both well represented and the extra features provide a solid amount of information.  It is a good-natured film that’s perfectly suitable for all to enjoy.

To learn more about the actual dolphin, Winter, visit the website Here: seewinter.com

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5 Responses to “Dolphin Tale (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Ashely Judd is fine in the plain mom role, which is a nice break from some of the darker stories she seems to pop up in (which also star Freeman, come to think of it). – LOL 🙂

    How much screen time does AJ get in this? Curious…

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    Not a whole lot. Supporting role.

  3. Brian White

    She never does 🙁
    She threw her whole career away.
    I’m telling you Aaron…she was on her way to the top with High Crimes and Double J and then she just threw it all away.
    Ever see the movie Normal Life? It’s a classic. When I was in the airport in LA once I saw Luke Perry. I went up to him. You can tell he did not want to talk to me. But I dropped the bomb on him when I said my favorite movie of yours is with AJ in Normal Life. The guy’s demeanor just brightened and he was then happy to talk to me.

  4. Gregg

    I find it extremely hard to believe that this movie you mentioned, ‘Normal Life’, is a classic, up there with the ranks of Citizen Kane, Star wars, Gone With the Wind, etc.

    As for Dolphin Tale, this was a very accurate review. I may have gone a little higher on the film rating, but yes, this was a light-hearted picture that didn’t go into a whole lot of detail; just enough to get the point across and keep it entertaining.

  5. Brian White

    And I can’t believe I approved Gregg’s comment out of the Spam folder. And I was being so nice to him today trying to arrange for web peeps to come down to FL next month 🙁 See how he treats me? 🙁