Film review: Dolphin Tale 2 is uncomplicated matinee entertainment

Dolphin Tale 2 continues the true story of Winter, the disabled resident of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures Dolphin Tale 2 continues the true story of Winter, the disabled resident of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures

Criticism of the aggressively inoffensive Dolphin Tale 2 should be taken with the same grain of salt that the critics themselves took when watching it. This film is not meant for analysis any more than Duck Duck Goose is meant to be played at a professional level, and for the same reason: because kids will enjoy it either way. Your investment in the outcome is neither considered nor required. Dolphin Tale 2 is what it is, its heart is in the right place, and if you find yourself needing to entertain children for an afternoon, this is your movie.

Yet if you do see it, consider the following an extended asterisk to everything above. Dolphin Tale 2 is so pleasant that you may find yourself humoring it rather than experiencing it. Watching it through to the end feels like spending time with someone who listens to Christmas music all year—any questions or objections you have, however legitimate, automatically put you in the position of spoiling someone else’s fun.

Thankfully, you can ground yourself in the success of the first film should you become worried that your inability to appreciate Dolphin Tale 2 means you’ve become too cynical. The original Dolphin Tale told the true story of Winter—a rescued dolphin whose tail needed to be amputated—and the team who rallied around her right to live a happy life despite her disability. It was an emotional, tonal, and financial success that managed to reach even the most jaded of critics. The characters are sympathetic, the families care about one another, the theme of not letting your disabilities own you is so resonant that it’s allowed to be as overt as it is, and there’s even a genuine struggle as difficult as the grimmest of grown-up movies.

Dolphin Tale 2, meanwhile, comes across less like a continuation of the same magic and more like a contractual obligation. Because the original is such an effectively self-contained story, writer-director Charles Martin Smith is stuck sapping whatever drama he can from other chapters in the history of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida; the trouble is that most of these chapters are little more than rescuing a sea turtle or being legally obligated to partner Winter with another dolphin. The real footage of these moments as recorded by aquarium personnel plays as the film ends, proving just how routine they were when they happened, and how unnecessary and overwrought the dramatic reenactments are, like Drunk History without comedians or alcohol. A documentary based on this same footage may have been more engaging and taken less time getting to the tearjerking moments.

There is a calmness to Dolphin Tale 2 that deserves to be applauded for going against the grain of spastic kid flicks. It has a few good life lessons that kids can use, but there just isn’t a story here that can match the original, no matter how many sassy pelicans or overlong dolphin-cam sequences they throw into the mix.

 

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