Today, we have three posts about dolphins and humans interacting. I went to high school on the Gulf Coast of Florida, which has some of the largest bottlenose dolphin populations in the world. When I am in Florida visiting family, I always look forward to kayaking between the mangrove islands of Boca Ciego Bay where pods of dolphin and porpoise fish and play along the edges of the channels, often swimming around and under my kayak. Magnificent creatures. On Friday, Warner Brothers released Dolphin Tale, a movie about the first dolphin ever to be fitted with a prosthetic tale. It is set in Clearwater, Florida, not far from where I went to high school. A review:
In August, we posted about a baby dolphin which became en-snarled in crab pot lines and was rescued by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The dolphin, named Winter by aquarium staff, had her tale amputated due to a loss of circulation caused by being tangled in the crab pot lines. After nearly dying, Winter was nursed back to health, but lacking a tale, her future was not bright. Remarkably, Dan Strzempka and Kevin Carroll, engineers at Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, heard the story and developed a series of prosthetic tales for Winter. Winters Gel, a special silicone gel sleeve developed for Winter is now making prosthetic limbs more comfortable for human as well as animal amputees.
This is a great story but it is not quite a movie. Warner Brothers set screenwriters Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi loose to build a Hollywood fable around Winter’s story. They dreamed up a fatherless eleven year old boy, alienated from the world around him, who helps rescue Winter and discovers the importance of love and family. He is paired with a precocious eleven year old girl, the motherless daughter of the director of the Clearwater Marine Hospital. In addition to the drama of whether or not Winter will survive, the screenwriters added a hurricane, the imminent financial collapse of the Marine Hospital, a subplot about Iraqi War veterans who have lost limbs, and the looming threat that they will have to “put Winter down” because no aquarium wants a dolphin without a tale. In the end, the two kids are smarter and more resourceful than the adults and everything works out just fine. And Winter does get a working prosthetic tale.
The movie tries to tug on every possible heart string and is both manipulative and predictable. Nevertheless, it works. It is great fun. All the actors are good - Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff play the eleven year olds. Harry Connick Jr. plays the veterinarian/hospital director while Ashley Judd is the boy’s mother. Kris Kristofferson is the gruff grandpa and Morgan Freeman is the eccentric prosthetics designer that designs the tale for Winter.
As good as the human actors are, the center of the movie is Winter, who plays herself. She makes the movie work. There are apparently some computer graphics involved in some of her scenes but most are played by Winter. Being raised almost entirely by humans, Winter sounds like an easy actor to work with.
While the movie is enjoyable in its own right, what really clinches the deal are the final scenes after the Hollywood hocum is over, when they run the photographs and video of Winter’s real rescue and the fitting of the prosthetic tales. There are also photos and video of amputees with prosthetic limbs visiting the aquarium, to remind the viewer that while much of the movie is fiction crafted to old Hollywood templates, Winter, the amputee dolphin, has been the source of strength and inspiration for thousands, with and without handicaps. In the end, what is fact and what is fiction hardly matter. The movie gets the important things right.