We just saw the movie in a nearly empty, late-afternoon theater. I imagine it if were about a moose who’d lost its foot, the audience would be fuller, here midcontinent, with moose, so say the experts, edging off our U.S. part of the globe. But this is an ocean tale which begins with stunning undersea photography of dolphins weaving through cathedrals of coral. For the photography alone, it’s worth the price.
The interaction of dolphins and humans has been recorded for centuries–ancient images from the king’s palace at Knossos, Crete, of humans astride dolphins’ backs. I watched white-skinned, winter-weary Norde Americanos swimming with dolphins in turquoise water off the coast of Isla Mujeres years ago, but nobody tried mounting with halter and stirrups.
What a connection with an animal can do for a forlorn child needs no deep psychological probe. The kid by-passes adult rules and demands, hurts and disappointments, and enters the world on the paws, hooves, flippers of an animal kin. When I was five, six, seven, and my parents stood mid-kitchen on weekday mornings arguing, I often positioned myself at the tall, deep, Old Citadel window and watched my turtle claw around its small watery world. Even now I can make out the yellow stripes on its head, legs and webbed feet, the tiny claws that slid down the wet, inward curving sides. We were both trapped, but watching my turtle created a silent companionship in our various containers where neither of us could gain purchase.
What’s so touching about this Dolphin Tale is that the adults neither overly invade the story, nor allow adult circumstances to trash the children’s important roles in the animal’s recovery. The boy hero discovers the dolphin beached and tangled in rope and rusty crab cage. The marine rescue crew includes a girl his age. We watch as the two observe the dolphin in hospital–a large tank where its damaged tail must finally be amputated. Then the dolphin shows a preference for the boy who first befriended her. Her clicks and “whooshes,” and moans, her singing, in other words increases when he is around. It’s the start of a series of events that brings her a helpful plastic surgeon whose main job is fitting damaged soldiers with legs, arms, hands.
But the story with all its necessary array of characters and plot twists–lonely parents, friendly grandfather, damaged soldier cousin, damaging hurricane, poorly funded marine rescue center–never departs far from the dolphin named Winter. Her success in accepting a substitute tail, the human skill and dedication to return her t0 the right way of swimming, make clear without preaching or politicking that what humans do to damage other creatures, they can also do to help and restore, themselves included. The boy becomes linked to the fully living world, and leaves his hand-held electronic devices and subtly built remote-controlled model helicopters go smash. I wonder if the grandson in my life, the one who’s great at throwing and catching, but lately fallen in love with water and seashells might not also love Winter and her boy advocate. Might not absorb, as does the boy in the film, that there are so many ways to