Dolphin Tale 2 – an unlikely sequel based around the true story of an inspirational dolphin with a prosthetic tail – suggests that the best story got left out of the first movie. It will keep kids happy and has nothing to make parents check their watches. It’s a shame this film didn’t come out during the summer when there was a distinct lack of family fare (instead of the baffling decision to dump it during back to school season), but it’s a big step up from the first film all around. It’s actually quite thoughtful, educational, and for the most part keeps its own sense of sappy sentimentality in check to a believable degree.
Due to her disability, amputee dolphin Winter can never be released back to the wild. When her companion dies, the team at the Florida rehab facility where she lives is forced to into hoping for a new dolphin to arrive or lose her to a water park that could care for her, but is also, you know, a water park where Winter will be exploited for show.
The film comes overlong and overstuffed, just as the first film did, but at least the humans this time out are just as engaging as their aquatic co-stars and a lot more dimensional. Harry Connick Jr. leads the way nicely as the proprietor concerned with money issues and trying to keep the facility open. Nathan Gamble’s now grown up Sawyer is torn between staying with Winter and spending a potentially life changing semester at sea via a Boston University program. Connick’s daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) wants more responsibility at the park. Really only Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, and Kris Kristofferson don’t have much to do, simply showing up in glorified returning cameos with good natured smiles to remind people they were also in the first film. Oh, and there’s an extended running gag with a rescued sea turtle being stalked by a pelican that’s pure kids stuff, but still gives a few chuckles.
Sure, Charles Martin Smith’s work here isn’t anything particularly special, but it’s the best case scenario for one of these films. What’s particularly interesting is once the film gets to the credits and it shows the actual day to day operations of the Clearwater rehab facility where the film takes place. That shows a remarkable attention to detail in the film’s scenes, including a dolphin rescue that plays out in real life remarkably like it did in the film about an hour before the ending. It’s not necessary that such a film have such a keen eye towards getting things right, but it’s one more admirable thing to like about an already hard to dislike film.