Dolphin Tale 2 (2014) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for some mild thematic elements
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Nathan Gamble, Harry Connick Jr., Cozi Zeuhlsdorff, Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Winter, Austin Stowell, Kris Kristofferson
Small role: Bethany Hamilton
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Screenplay: Charles Martin Smith
Review published September 13, 2014
Dolphin Tale 2 continues the story about three years after the events of Dolphin Tale, where we find that Florida's Clearwater Marine Aquarium has expanded quite a bit since the rundown days, thank in large part to the many visitors who come to the facility in order to see the inspirational Winter, the dolphin with an amputated tail who has managed to survive with the help of a prosthetic one. Winter has been depressed of late though, as dolphins are extremely social animals, and without an acceptable female partner to spend time with, her funk has made her grow ever more despondent and aggressive. Unfortunately, it's bad timing, as a USDA inspector has slapped the facility with 30 days to find a companion for her tank or they will lose the popular attraction to another facility where she can be paired with another female.
The whole gang is back here, including Charles Martin Smith, who helmed the first feature, and this time contributes to the screenplay as well as the acting department, playing the USDA inspector who must uphold the government policies to protect Winter, even if it means moving her from her loving home. Smith curbs many of his more cutesy tendencies which marred the first entry somewhat, but also has made this second entry much more serious in tone, which may turn off some viewers looking for a continuation of the fun-above-all-else tempo. The CGI elements are toned down, but the conversations and occupational problems are turned up, which may make kids looking for funny or cute distractions a little more restless this time out. Luckily, there ore occasional interludes with Rufus, the rambunctious pelican, which time growing enamored of an injured sea turtle named Mavis staying for a spell at the aquarium.
The kids are now older, and have a less juvenile perspective on life. Winter's savior Sawyer is now on the staff of the aquarium, and he's in charge of cultivating the trainees that have volunteered to keep the facility running smoothly. Hazel, daughter of Clearwater manager Clay, appears to have some romantic feelings for him, and fears that Sawyer may eventually outgrow his passion for the business end of running the aquarium. The supporting cast is downplayed a bit more, with smaller commitments for Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman and Kris Kristofferson (who is barely in the film), but their inclusion is certainly welcome without feeling shoehorned just to keep them in the mix. Connick's role is beefed up a tad, and he takes advantage of it with a nice dramatic performance that keeps the film's mild plotline feeling just weighty enough to provide investment in what happens at the climax.
Smith introduces an interesting story angle, which is the conflict among many aquariums that rehabilitate animals: it's expensive to run such a facility, so they have to strike a balance between giving the animals the care they need without trying to exploit them purely to draw in much-needed revenue. Clay wants to do what's best for the animals, but he's getting pressure on all sides of the issue to act. Those who've invested financially into the facility want him to find an appropriate female dolphin, even a healthy one, but Clay feels the purpose of the hospital is to release the creatures back to their normal habitat once they are ready. Meanwhile, Hazel and Sawyer don't want to see Winter suffering so much, and will do anything to keep from losing her, and they beg Clay to do anything he has to in order to keep her happy and with them.
Dolphin Tale 2 is a charming and thoughtful workplace drama for families, and though it may not produce the same amount of laughs or smilew as the first entry, it's a more mature effort meant for those who are growing up along with what could be a new franchise should this one prove successful.
©2014 Vince Leo