Dolphin Tale

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Dolphin Tale Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Heartwarming tale is sweet, inspiring for kids and tweens.
  • PG
  • 2011
  • 113 minutes

Parents say

age 5+
Based on 38 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 84 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids will learn about marine animals, especially dolphins, and how they live and move and what they need to survive. The doctor's explanation of prosthetics is also surprisingly educational, as is the scene showing the amputee veterans who are playing basketball with their prosthetic limbs in place.

Positive Messages

The movie is swimming in positive messages about the importance of family and friends, the bond that exists between human and animals, and the idea that being disabled doesn't mean that you can't accomplish your dreams. Curiosity, empathy, and integrity are major themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All of the characters are positive role models: Sawyer is loyal, Hazel is compassionate, Dr. McCarthy is generous, and Dr. Haskett is dedicated to his work. Everyone uses teamwork to save Winter, even when it looks like hope is lost. The kids persevere with their desire to keep Winter alive.

Violence & Scariness

When viewers first meet Winter, she's lying on the sand with rope tied around her tail and body, and her tail fin is bloody and bruised. When she eventually has to have her tail amputated, she's shown in the water with the remaining stump; Sawyer and Hazel are very upset. Sawyer's cousin returns from his deployment in a wheelchair, but his injury isn't described or discussed in detail. A hurricane hits Florida and destroys parts of the sanctuary, but no animals are shown hurt.

Sexy Stuff

A mildly flirtatious first meeting between two adult characters, plus some brief shots of shirtless and swimsuit-wearing teens at a pool party.


"Crappy," "holy smokes," "shoot," and "stupid" are as strong as it gets.


Brief mentions/shots of a Nintendo DS, Swiss Army knife, and Wikipedia.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dolphin Tale is an inspiring family drama with themes of courage and survival. It's based on the true story of an injured dolphin named Winter. There's very little content that isn't age appropriate for kids of all ages, but younger viewers may be sensitive to a few mildly upsetting scenes: the opening shot of Winter stuck on the beach with a bloody, tied-up tail; the news of an injured character returning home from his deployment; and a sequence showing a hurricane hitting central Florida. Many school-aged children may actually already be familiar with the story, since the book about Winter's rescue is included in some middle-grade lesson plans.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byGomi March 24, 2015

A few things parents should be aware of

Language: The grandpa says 'crappy' early on.
We hear that:
The boy's dad abandoned his family years earlier.
The girl's mom died w... Continue reading
Parent of a 4 and 6-year-old Written bypelotoner October 16, 2011

Instills Courage, Respect and Love, Go see it!! ...with one caveat.

First of all, loved the movie. We have 4 and 6 year olds, and almost nothing is appropriate these days. This one was! Very heart-warming. No romance (at all... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byCrystalAlmond_Dayna March 13, 2021

Dolphin Tale

This was a really good film. I think anyone would like it. There a few words that aren't kid-safe but it's still good.
Kid, 12 years old March 12, 2021

not realy great

it was not that great and would not recomend it.

What's the story?

In DOLPHIN TALE, Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) isn't having a great summer; his favorite cousin (Austin Stowell) is being deployed overseas, and he's stuck going to summer school. On his way to school, Sawyer hears a fisherman calling for help and discovers an injured beached dolphin. Before the marine sanctuary picks up the dolphin, Sawyer shares a tender moment with her; later, he heads to the sanctuary and finds a girl his age, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), willing to show him where "Winter" the dolphin is convalescing. Even Hazel's occasionally gruff father, Dr. Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.), notices how Winter reacts to Sawyer, so Sawyer starts skipping school to help with Winter's rehabilitation. When Winter's injured tail fin is amputated, Sawyer asks a doctor specializing in prosthetics (Morgan Freeman) to help fit the dolphin with a prosthetic tail, while the Hasketts try to save the sanctuary from being turned into a condo development.

Is it any good?

This film is a reminder of why movies that feature non-talking animals are so much more entertaining than the gimmicky comedies centering on talking pets. Winter, who is in fact "played by" Winter, is hard to resist, as are the two adorable up-and-comers who play the lead kids. The friendship between Hazel and Sawyer is refreshingly free of preteen romance or cooties; it's completely focused on their kindred interest in Winter and the other rescued animals. All of the supporting actors are on top form -- broody Connick, who treats audiences to an impromptu sax solo; the always kind and wise Freeman; and Ashley Judd, who plays Sawyer's hardworking single mother. Kris Kristofferson also pops up as Connick's sage, sea-loving father.

Thanks to its sweet young stars, seasoned veterans, and compelling storyline, Dolphin Tale is, in the tradition of The Black Stallion and Secretariat, the sort of animal-themed film that's about the genuine love and friendship that can exist between animals and humans. By the time the credits roll and you see documentary footage of Winter's real crew of rescuers, you'll feel just as genuinely touched by the story of a remarkable dolphin who's a true survivor. Winter's an inspiration to both the able-bodied and people with disabilities, who make pilgrimages to see the dolphin swim with her prosthetic tail.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Winter's story of survival in Dolphin Tale. How is the dolphin the "hero" of the story? Who helps her beat the odds? What are some other movies about animals that defy expectations?

  • What's the movie's message about the difference between school work and life experience?

  • How does the movie portray "handicap"? Why does Winter become a symbol to people with various disabilities?

  • How do the characters in Dolphin Tale demonstrate curiosity, integrity, and empathy? What about compassion and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animals

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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