With the obligatory onslaught of slasher/horror films due out, Warner Bros takes a chance to release a heartwarming family film not featuring and animated character.


"Dolphin Tale" is the true story of a dolphins fight for life and how it bonded with the little boy who helped save him saved him. It's one of those warm fuzzy stories that plays well at this time of the year.


Directed by long time veteran actor Charles Martin Smith, it casts Nathan Gamble as loner tweener Sawyer Nelson who is more comfortable doodling with mechanical objects than interacting with people. His introverted personality is due to his father leaving for parts unknown. His only male figure - a cousin named Kyle - is leaving for Army deployment.

As is usually the case in these types of films, though he is quite bright, his school grades suffered and he is forced to attend summer school.


One day, while riding to school he comes across a fisherman frantically running for help - a dolphin has washed ashore tangled in a crab trap and grasping for life. While the fisherman stepped away to recover his fishing tackle, Sawyer cuts the dolphin free.


Later, a sea animal rescue team comes to recover the barely alive dolphin for care at the Clearwater SeaAnimal Hospital. Part of the team is a little girl named hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) whose personality is the exact opposite of Sawyer.


Despite their efforts, Hazel's dad Dr. Haskett (Harry Connick Jr) is forced to amputate the dolphin's tale as it was severely damaged. The only problem is that dolphins can't survive without a tale.

Eventually, Dr Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) is called in to assess if he can make a prosthetic for the dolphin, much like he does for injured veterans returning from war.


Meanwhile, the hospital is facing funding problems and is destined to be acquired by a local businessman, who plans of building something profitable on the site.


The race is on to save the dolphin, save the hospital, save Sawyers grades, save Kyle's depression (when he returns from the army injured), and save Ashely Judd's acting career.


Retelling the survival story of Winter (the dolphin), Martin Smith has crafted a wonderful story with a cast that feels comfortable. Indeed, this was second time Freeman and Ashely Judd (who plays sawyers hot mother) have worked together. Harry Connick Jr. almost seems authentic as Dr Haskett and Cozi is adorable as his outgoing busybody daughter.


It seems clear that Martin Smith recalled "Flipper" and "Namu, The Killer Whale" while directing, you can see the influences. It is those touches that makes his film that much more endearing.


"Dolphin Tale" is a truly delightful family film that reminds us of the dangers these fantastic animals face everyday.   -- GEOFF BURTON