Is it possible to adjust to change when you fear that the people you love won’t be there to accept you anymore? That’s part of the premise behind the DVD release of “Dolphin Tale 2,” which had the main character realizing that he couldn’t stay a kid for too much longer. Sure, the follow-up continued on the same tone as the first film, but it offered very few surprises in the end.
“Dolphin Tale 2” followed Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) who was still continuing his volunteering work at the Clearwater Marine Hospital for the past several years, even now that he was a teenager. He was getting noticed by the new young female volunteers who tried to flirt with him, until his friend/fellow volunteer Hazel Haskett (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) interrupted them every single time. She was also going through a period of adjustment as well with her father Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) who helped run the hospital. Hazel wanted to be treated as an equal because she was capable of taking charge in animal rescues and releases since she had been there almost as long as her father had. Clay also had to contend with the hospital’s most popular attraction in dolphin Winter who was greatly affected by the recent death of her surrogate mother figure Panama, who was an older dolphin that died of old age. Winter was showing signs of depression and wouldn’t swim with the prosthetic tail that Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) helped make for her. The dolphin even accidentally attacked her best pal Sawyer by accident that led to a wrist injury for him. While Sawyer and Winter recovered from recent events, Clay was given the added pressure to pair Winter up with another dolphin or run the risk of Winter being transferred to another facility. Sawyer was also forced to decide whether he should enroll in this special program for gifted students that would take him away from Winter and his mother Lorraine (Ashley Judd). Will Sawyer choose to accept his place in the program or stick around for Winter’s sake?
In terms of questions, the movie pretty much resolved almost all of the open plot lines because it had to stick pretty much close to real life events, which involved the addition of young dolphin Hope as Winter’s new companion that got off to a rocky start at first. Sure, the story of Hope’s addition was an important one for Winter’s tale, but the film’s pace seemed to take a little too long for Hope to arrive and it almost wrapped up both dolphins bonding a little too quickly as a way to make up for lost time. The likely scenario for the film’s set-up was that was how Winter and Hope came together in the first place, but their story just needed a tad more finesse to move the rest of the film along. While the cast continued to develop a strong on-screen rapport, it was their animal counterparts that stole the show. The dolphins managed to draw laughs by pulling Sawyer and Hazel into the water every so often. Another scene-stealer was Rufus the Pelican who managed to cause trouble wherever he went. The showdown that Rufus had with Hazel when their recent turtle rescue was being released. Rufus almost didn’t want the turtle to be released for reasons only known to that bird. He was also used as a way to bring the movie’s two teenagers: Hazel and Sawyer, who seemed destined to be in a romantic relationship when they get the hint. Hazel’s hidden jealousy over Sawyer chatting with other female volunteers was obvious, but it was never truly explored. Let’s hope that if there’s an opportunity for a third film that the story will be given a chance to be developed properly.
As for breakout performances, Gamble, Zuehlsdorff and Freeman led the pack for very different reasons. Gamble’s Sawyer was given the chance to allow his naive character to grow into a mature young man who realized that in order to evolve he had to see the world before doing so. Gamble also had a comfortable rapport with the dolphins and his adult counterparts as well. He had a father/son type rapport with Connick, Jr. that allowed them to riff off each other whenever it was necessary. Gamble also had a strong connection with Freeman’s McCarthy that allowed Freeman’s character to give Gamble’s Sawyer some strong pearls of wisdom that involved in a watch that needed to be whacked every so often to work. It was a strange gift to give to a teenage boy, but the message was received by the audience and Sawyer as well. He also had chemistry with Zuehlsdorff’s Hazel that was the right mixture of friendship and potential romance if both characters were willing to explore it. Sadly, this movie was not the proper venue for that to happen. Zuehlsdorff’s Hazel has evolved from a precocious girl into a passionate teenager who wanted to fight for the animals in her care. She also capable of taking the reigns of the hospital whenever her father allowed her to do so. Zuehlsdorff’s strongest scene came when she passionately told her on-screen father (Connick, Jr.) that she deserved not to be treated with kid gloves when it came to the animals. Even though Freeman’s McCarthy wasn’t on-screen that much, he generally made the most of his brief screen time by garnering laughs and free advice to the cast of characters whenever possible. It was just a shame that he didn’t get to share more scenes with his frequent on-screen partner Judd because they managed to develop a comfortable rapport that allowed them to be comfortable with each other after doing multiple films together. Hopefully, their next film together will give them the chance to interact more with each other.
Verdict: The cast delivered strong performances, but the movie belonged to the animals who stole the show from their human costars as they garnered many laughs at their expense.
DVD Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)