Dolphin Tale Movie Poster Image

Dolphin Tale



Heartwarming tale is sweet, inspiring for kids and tweens.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: September 23, 2011
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 113 minutes

What parents need to know

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.

Positive role models

All of the characters are positive role models: Sawyer is loyal, Hazel is loving, Dr. McCarthy is generous, and Dr. Haskett is dedicated to his work. Everyone works together 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
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this inspiring family drama with themes of courage and survival is 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.

What's the story?

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?


DOLPHIN TALE 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Winter's story of survival. 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 23, 2011
DVD release date:December 20, 2011
Cast:Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman
Director:Charles Martin Smith
Studio:Warner Bros.
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Friendship, Ocean creatures, Wild animals
Character strengths:Compassion, Curiosity, Empathy, Integrity, Teamwork
Run time:113 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:mild thematic elements

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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!) between characters. Brought amputees into the discussion and how we treat others; as well as honoring nature. Yes, the scene with Winter on the beach has some blood, though not much. And they go to a VA Hospital where there a lot of soldiers in prosthetics. Very tastefully done, and all of the soldiers have humor. The only thing that gave our 6 year old pause was when the Hurricane came through. No one gets hurt, and everything goes back to normal. It didn't even register with our 4 year old. They do say "...a crappy day..." and Morgan Freeman says "Swim stupid fish." I still have NO idea why they even have to say those words. They were only said once each, though the 'stupid' quote was memorable and our 4 year old repeated it immediately. Even with those, I say go see it. It is a great story, instills courage, respect and love. Something more movies should strive for.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Parent of a 3 and 5 year old Written bySan Diego Mom October 6, 2011

FINALLY An A+ Family Movie!

I am very strict about movies - I find most Disney movies (i.e. The Lion King, Tangled, etc) to scary or inappropriate for my 3 and 5 year old. This movie, however, was PERFECT for my family, dispite it being a "PG" film. The few adult situations (i.e. soldier coming home injured) are handled in a way that adults understand the gravity of the situation but it would go over kids' heads if they are little. There are no bad guys, no name calling, and the tense moments are over quickly. Overall, the movie has a wonderful message plus the dolphin is darn cute.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written bymrbookworm01 September 24, 2011

Really good, but got emotional

I went to go see the movie with my stepsister and it was kinda emotional. She said that she started getting teary while watching it. But it also has some funny moments. Ok for kids 7+ Violence: Winter is shown bleeding when she's stuck in the cage, and the hurricane scene may be disturbing to some kids Language: One use of the word "crappy" Consumerism: a Nintendo DS, Swiss Army knife, and Wikipedia are shown, and the Nintendo Gameboy is briefly mentioned.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism


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