Dolphin Tale

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Dolphin Tale
Dolphin Tale Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
Produced by Richard Ingber
Broderick Johnson
Andrew A. Kosove
Written by Karen Janszen
Noam Dromi
Starring Nathan Gamble
Harry Connick, Jr
Ashley Judd
Kris Kristofferson
Cozi Zuehlsdorff
Morgan Freeman
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Edited by Harvey Rosenstock
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Summit Entertainment
Release dates
  • September 23, 2011 (2011-09-23)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $37 million[2]
Box office $95.9 million[3]

Dolphin Tale is a 2011 American 3D family drama film directed by Charles Martin Smith (his first directed film since 2008) from a screenplay by Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi and a book of the same name. It stars Nathan Gamble, Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Cozi Zuehlsdorff in her big screen debut, and Morgan Freeman.[4] The book and film are inspired by the true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin that was rescued in December 2005 off the Florida coast and taken in by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Winter lost her tail after becoming entangled with a rope attached to a crab trap and was fitted with a prosthetic one.[5] The film was theatrically released on September 23, 2011 by Warner Bros. Pictures and Summit Entertainment. Dolphin Tale received positive reviews from critics and it earned $95.9 million[3] on a $37 million[2] budget. A sequel, Dolphin Tale 2 was released on September 12, 2014.[6]


Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), a lonely 11-year-old, has fallen behind in school since being abandoned by his father five years earlier. His only friend is his cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), a champion swimmer who hopes to compete in the Olympics. Kyle leaves to spend time in the army.

One day Sawyer finds a fisherman (Richard Libertini) trying to help an injured dolphin tangled in a crab trap. The dolphin is taken for treatment to Clearwater Marine Hospital (CMA), run by Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.). Clay's daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) names the dolphin Winter, following the theme of two prior dolphins, Summer and Autumn, who were successfully treated and returned to the ocean. Sawyer sneaks in to see Winter (with an assist from Hazel) and later starts visiting daily, being harassed by an obnoxious roof-dwelling pelican named Rufus. Their respective parents disapprove at first (Dr. Clay because Sawyer has no experience with marine animals, and Sawyer's mother, Lorraine (Ashley Judd), because Sawyer is skipping summer school without permission to visit Winter); but they are won over by the fact that the friendship seems to benefit both Winter and Sawyer (Winter feels better with Sawyer's presence, and Sawyer is becoming more confident and strong). Dr. Clay allows the visits to continue, and Lorraine withdraws Sawyer from summer school and lets him volunteer at CMA giving him a new wet suit as well.

Unfortunately, Winter's tail is damaged and must be amputated. Winter learns to swim without a tail by developing a side-to-side motion like a fish, but after an x-ray Clay notices the unnatural motion is causing stress on her spine; if continued the motion will cripple and eventually kill her.

The news comes that Kyle has been injured in an explosion and is coming home for treatment. Sawyer is excited to see him, but devastated when Kyle, depressed, skips his own welcome-back party and stays at the local Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) is developing a prosthetic leg for Kyle. Sawyer and his mother visit Kyle there but Kyle asks them to leave, which shocks and infuriates Sawyer. Kyle takes Sawyer on a walk for a deeper talk about his leg. Sawyer then asks Dr. McCarthy if he can work on making a prosthetic tail for Winter. McCarthy agrees to do so and convinces his prosthetic supplier (Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, which supplies Winter's real-life tails) to supply the parts at no cost. Dr. McCarthy manufactures a "homemade" model tail while waiting for the real one to arrive; however, Winter rejects it and destroys it by banging it against the pool wall.

Meanwhile Kyle gets more depressed when his friend and swimming partner, Donovan Peck, beats Kyle's old swimming records. Dr. McCarthy hears about it and persuades Kyle to go home.

Then CMA, already in financial peril, is damaged by a hurricane. The board of directors agree to close CMA, sell the land to a real estate developer, and find homes for all the animals except Winter, who due to her condition is not wanted by anyone and may have to be euthanized. Kyle visits CMA and sees that Winter is like him, with a damaged limb. However, inspired by a girl with a prosthetic limb from Atlanta, Georgia who - inspired by Winter's story of overcoming disability - comes to visit Winter, Sawyer envisions an event called "Save Winter Day" to save the facility. Clay is not sold on the idea, but reconsiders after talking with his father, Reed (Kris Kristofferson). Kyle agrees to a race against Donovan Peck and persuades Bay News 9 to cover the event.

The Hanger-supplied tail finally arrives; however, Winter rejects it as well. Sawyer then figures out what the real problem is: the plastic base for the tail is irritating her skin. So Dr. McCarthy develops an alternative gel-like sock which he calls "Winter's Gel" (the real-life name of the Hanger product used to attach prosthetic limbs, which was developed during its research with Winter). Winter finally accepts this newest prosthetic tail.

At Save Winter Day, the work with Winter impresses everyone. Sawyer's teacher gives him school credit, allowing him to pass summer school. The fisherman who found Winter on the beach comes by as well. Also, the real estate developer decides to keep CMA open and financially support it. With Winter's help, Kyle then wins a swimming race against Donovan.

The ending shows documentary footage from Winter's actual rescue. It then shows several of the prosthetic tails that Winter has worn, and scenes from real amputees who have visited Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.


  • Nathan Gamble as Sawyer Nelson, an 11-year-old boy who finds Winter and cuts the crab trap off her. He becomes a friend and paternal figure of sorts to Winter.
  • Winter as herself, an injured dolphin that must have part of her fluke amputated. Despite that, she adapts and swims side-to-side. But that figures to be bad for Winter's spine, hence the fake tail (which allows her to swim naturally.)
  • Harry Connick Jr. as Dr. Clay Haskett, the operator of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater and Hazel's father.
  • Ashley Judd as Lorraine Nelson, Sawyer's mother and a nurse.
  • Kris Kristofferson as Reed Haskett, Clay's father and Hazel's grandfather.
  • Morgan Freeman as Dr. Cameron McCarthy, a prosthetic designer and Kyle's doctor at the VA Hospital. He agrees to help create a prosthetic tail for Winter.
  • Jim Fitzpatrick as Max Connellan, Kyle's father and Sawyer's uncle. He is also a former army veteran.
  • Cozi Zuehlsdorff as Hazel Haskett, an 11-year-old girl and the daughter of Clay and granddaughter of Reed. She helps out in the aquarium and becomes friends with Sawyer.
  • Ray McKinnon as Mr. Doyle, Sawyer's teacher.
  • Austin Stowell as Kyle Connellan, Sawyer's cousin who is a state swimming champion. At the start of the movie he leaves to spend time in the army to get money to participate in the Olympics but is injured and comes home prematurely.
  • Michael Roark as Donovan Peck, a friend of Kyle's who is also a state swimming champion.
  • Frances Sternhagen as Gloria Forrest, the owner of Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
  • Austin Highsmith as Phoebe, the trainer of Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
  • Betsy Landin as Kat, one of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium dolphin specialists.
  • Tom Nowicki as Philip J. Hordern, a real estate developer.
  • Richard Libertini as the fisherman who finds Winter. He later visits during the fundraiser and gives them a generous donation.


Dolphin Tale was filmed in native 3D. Filming began in 2010. The film was shot primarily in Pinellas County, Florida with the principal location centering around Winter's home, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Additional locations featured in the film include: Admiral Farragut Academy, Honeymoon Island, Tarpon Springs, and local news station Bay News 9.[7]

Differences between the movie and real-life events[edit]

In the film, Winter is stranded on Honeymoon Island Beach in Dunedin near Clearwater. She is found by a nearby fisherman sitting on the shore (and then rescued with Sawyer's assistance). In real life, Winter was found in Mosquito Lagoon south of New Smyrna Beach―part of the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. The fisherman who discovered her was in the lagoon as well. Winter was first taken to the local Marine Discovery center and then transferred to Clearwater, which is on the opposite side of the state.[8] In the movie it is mentioned that Winter's tail was amputated due to infection caused by the tail being caught in the rope. In real life, the loss of blood supply to the tail (from being caught in the rope) caused most of the tail to naturally fall off, with only a small piece being amputated.[9] In the movie the process of developing Winter's tail takes place over a few weeks by a Veteran's Administration doctor working during his vacation. In real life, the process of developing (and attaching) a suitable tail took a number of months by Kevin Carroll and Dan Strzempka from Hanger Clinic.[8][10]


Dolphin Tale was released theatrically on September 23, 2011 in North America by Warner Bros. Pictures and Alcon Entertainment. The film was released in RealD 3D as well as 2D.

The movie was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 20, 2011.


The film opened at #3 with $19.2 million behind the 3D re-release of The Lion King and Moneyball.[11] In its second weekend, the film reached the #1 spot, dropping only 27%, and grossed $13.9 million.[12] As of January 5, 2012, the film has grossed $72,286,779 in the United States and Canada as well as $23,117,618 internationally bringing its worldwide total to $95,404,397.[3] The film received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 82% of 106 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.5 out of 10.[13] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 64 based on 31 reviews.[14]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Young Artist Award Best Performance in a Feature Film - Leading Young Actor Nathan Gamble Nominated [15]
Best Performance in a Feature Film - Supporting Young Actress Cozi Zuehlsdorff Nominated


Main article: Dolphin Tale 2

A sequel titled Dolphin Tale 2 was released on September 12, 2014.


  1. ^ "Dolphin Tale (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 2011-09-06. Retrieved 2011-09-07. 
  2. ^ a b Kaufman, Amy (September 22, 2011). "Movie Projector: Brad Pitt vs. 'Lion King,' 'Dolphin Tale' for No.1". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Dolphin Tale @ Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ "Dolphin Tale (2011)". IMDb. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  5. ^ "Dolphin Tale: about". 3 September 2011. 
  6. ^ Persall, Steve (2013-06-18). "'Dolphin Tale 2' to focus on rescued baby dolphin". Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, FL). Retrieved 2013-06-18. 
  7. ^ Steve Persall (23 September 2010). "Production on Dolphin Tale in Clearwater starts earlier than previously announced". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Yahalom, Tali (18 July 2007). "Dolphin and Iraq veteran share wonder of prosthetics". USA Today. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  9. ^ "Winter, the tailless bottlenose dolphin - How you can help prevent injuries to dolphins" (PDF). National Marine Fisheries Service. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  10. ^ "Pictured: The world's first bionic sea creature: Winter the dolphin gets a prosthetic tail". Daily Mail. 5 May 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  11. ^ of Weekend Report: 'Lion' Remains 'King,' 'Moneyball,' 'Dolphin Tale' Go Extra Innings
  12. ^ Weekend Report: 'Dolphin Tale' Leaps Into Lead
  13. ^ "Dolphin Tale (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved September 25, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Dolphin Tale s Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 25, 2011. 
  15. ^ "33rd Annual Young Artist Awards". Retrieved March 31, 2012. 

External links[edit]