Samantha Ellis, Global Animal

Dolphin Tale is not just a movie for people of all ages, it’s a movie for animal lovers. The film entertains with good old-fashioned storytelling about characters we care about. And with an inspiring dolphin playing herself in the leading role, what’s not to love? 

Based on a true story, the film begins with a luckless dolphin entangled in a crab trap, and a boy looking for a friend and a purpose. The two find each other, and the tale of Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) and Winter (as herself) unfolds as the connection between the boy and bottlenose dolphin deepens.  

Okay, we hear you. Let’s address what’s surely on the minds of animal lovers– what’s entertaining about a dolphin in captivity? We at Global Animal abhor the captivity trade and agree with our readers – imprisoning other beings to perform for our so-called entertainment (in sea parks, circuses or elsewhere) is outmoded and wrong.

But Dolphin Tale isn’t that, and it doesn’t skip over of the sad facts for the sake of moviemaking. Instead, Dolphin Tale dives into the imperfect world where animals and mammals like Winter have such serious human-inflicted injuries that they can not live freely. And it’s up to us to make amends to those we’ve hurt and learn something from the experience. Those are the deep waters that Dolphin Tale navigates well. 

Movie-goers should know that the safety of Winter, the featured dolphin who was rescued and rehabilitated at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), was top priority during the movie’s filming. Any scenes that could have been dangerous for Winter and the other animal residents were done using animatronics or CGI technology.

Winter is joined on screen by Harry Connick Jr., who plays a marine biologist, and Morgan Freeman, a doc who helps devise her prosthetic tail. Ashley Judd, who was drawn to the film’s family theme, brings a quiet grace as a single mom doing her best for her son, Sawyer. 

The story is told from a child’s perspective. Sawyer, a lonely and shy eleven-year-old, finds a way to relate to other people through his relationship with Winter. Winter, in turn, finds the strength to survive the loss of her tail through the friendship she develops with Sawyer.

Not only do boy and dolphin save each other in a spiritual sense (like so many strays and the people who rescue them), but the two change the lives of people in their community. From a doctor specializing in prosthetics (Morgan Freeman) to the local swim team, Sawyer rallies the community to help Winter survive.

Winter touches the people she comes in contact with, inspiring them to hope when it seems there is no reason to; she becomes something of an ambassador from the animal world to people with disabilities. As one little girl missing a leg in the movie said, “Momma, she’s just like me.”

Dolphin Tale illustrates that animal movies aren’t just for kids. Winter’s indomitable spirit can teach anyone about coping with loss. Despite losing her tail, Winter overcomes the odds and teaches herself to swim. 

Dolphin Tale highlights the powerful bond that forms between animals and the people who care for them. Winter is just one example of how animals are more than just companions or friends – they are family. 

Dolphin Tale stars Morgan FreemanAshley JuddHarry Connick Jr., and Kris Kristofferson. The movie opens Friday, September 23.

Hear what the Dolphin Tale director and actors say to Global Animals about working with Winter and making the movie: