Dolphin Tale 2

Directed By: Charles Martin Smith

Starring: Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble, Kris Kristofferson, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, and Morgan Freeman

I'm no adoring fan of the Dolphin Tale franchise, but the rescue, rehab, and release principle by which the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) operates is something Hollywood should consider as part of its own strategy.  It may help with the weak year studios have had at the North American box office.  CMA rescues injured animals, rehabs them to good health, and then releases them back into the wild.  Unless absolutely necessary, they don't keep animals in their pools for show in perpetuity.

Similarly, Hollywood should identify and pick up new ideas, cultivate them into a single film (or a reasonable series of films), and release it (them) to the public.  There's no need for them to keep certain franchises or concepts in their own figurative pool for decades and decades without bringing new ideas to the big screen.  Doing just that is what's killing their take at the mainstream box office this year.  As it stands, I reflect on this as I'm writing about yet another sequel, this weekend's Dolphin Tale 2.

After being spotted near the beaches of Clearwater, the dolphin Mandy is rescued by the Clearwater team and brought back to the aquarium for rehab.  Elsewhere, Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) does a show with Winter and surfer Bethany Hamilton and notices that Winter is behaving strangely.  When Winter's companion dolphin Panama turns up dead, Winter's bizarre behavior becomes crystal clear.  With Panama's passing, Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) must find a new female dolphin with which to pair Winter.  If not, he risks losing Winter to the USDA, which doesn't bode well for the Clearwater community, particularly Sawyer and Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff).  That new companion might be Mandy.  Then again, it might not be.

Meanwhile, Sawyer gets an invitation to join a program known as Sea Semester.  It's an undergraduate program for students studying marine biology.  However, the program offers a scholarship to one advanced high school student annually.  This year, they've chosen Sawyer based on his work with Winter.  At the urging of his mother Lorraine (Ashley Judd), Sawyer must make a decision, to stay here with the family and friends he knows and loves or venture out and explore this big giant world.  Risking boxing himself in at Clearwater, Sawyer delays the decision as he wishes to help Winter get through the loss of Panama.

The mark of a great animal movie is the director's ability to personify the beast and make it equivalent to one of the human characters.  The bar I've leveraged in recent years has been that fine stallion Joey in Steven Spielberg's War Horse back in 2011.  While Winter, Hope, Mandy, and Mavis are no match for Joey, these aquatic animals do come to life with some personality thanks to director Charles Martin Smith.  From the director's chair, Smith manages to capture the right camera shots and fixate on the dolphins, turtles, and pelicans when they're at their most interesting — when they’re observing the world around them, interacting with other creatures, or simply demonstrating that they're in a bad mood.  Though the film is not outstanding like War Horse, Dolphin Tale 2 is decently entertaining because of the animals.

All that being said, there is a major drawback to this wholesome movie.  It's too saccharine at times.  The humans bring very little to the table in terms of their performances, and Smith ratchets up the sappy nature of things with plenty of obvious cinematic techniques.  For instance, the scenes after Panama's death are painfully bad.  The characters can't handle the death of an elderly dolphin, and the cast portraying these actors do not have the dramatic chops to pull these emotional scenes off convincingly.  To make matters worse, heavy-handed direction from Smith is marked by plenty of cheesy music to cover up poor acting.  Moreover, examples like this leave Dolphin Tale 2 on the precipice of mediocrity.

Dolphin Tale 2 is a little too wholesome for my taste.  With better performances and better direction overall, the film could have been something more.  Still, it’s entertaining.  As it stands, this aquatic film gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of rounds of beer with this one.