DOLPHIN TALE (TAIL) (PG-13 for delicate subject matter concerning handicapped people & animals): It's yet another "taken from real life" plot, but this time it has a well needed moral lesson & follows the original quite accurately. At the same time, it's been slipped into a recognizable format: Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), an 11-year-old lonely boy, finds a tangled dolphin (called Winter) just off the coast of Florida, helps rescue it, and thanks to Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), a cute girl about his same age, gets involved in the treatment to compensate for a removed damaged tail.
At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a series of failures & successes occur, and with the help of a Hazel's father, Dr. Clay (Harry Connick, Jr.) and a prosthetic limbs engineer, Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), as well as Sawyer's constant care, Winter progresses well enough to be included in a sensational water show which is attended by handicapped children & adults (including a returning vet, a cousin of Sawyer's, who suffers emotionally from his own amputation until, that is, he gets involved with Winter and rediscovers the joy of life in a pool).
It borders on tacky here, but Charles Martin Smith, who has proven his love for wild creatures in an earlier film about wolves in the wild, here displays a flair with kids, with sea creatures, and with happy endings, and proves himself a very capable director. He guides the story through the bumps of familiarity - a pelican that sticks around for laughs, friends overcoming family difficulties, solving med issues with a minimum of complications, etc. - and gives us a nicely made kids' movie in the old-fashioned Disney style. He works well with a cast of big names (including Kris Kristofferson, Ashley Judd & Frances Sternhagen) while concentrating on the two youngsters who all but steal the show. It's a feel-good 113-minute movie with a moral & a lesson to be learned; kids will love it. (Grade: B)