The main dolphin in the Dolphin Tale movies is tail-less. An injured bottlenose rescued in Florida, “Winter” was given a prosthetic tail which corrected her swimming motion, and became a star at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She played herself in 2011’s Dolphin Tale, a heavily fictionalized account of her life.
Winter’s back in Dolphin Tale 2, bereaved after the death, of old age, of a beloved tankmate. We’re shown how she bonds with a new foundling, an adorable baby bottlenose named Hope. Much of the movie’s focus, however, is on Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), the teen kid who found Winter in Part One, and his pal Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), the daughter of CMA’s founder (Harry Connick, Jr.).
These are pleasant enough kids, and some name players return to pick up a check as well—along with Connick, there’s Ashley Judd as Sawyer’s Mom, Kris Kristofferson as Connick’s Dad, and a smiling Morgan Freeman as the prosthetic designer, absolutely failing to convince us that he’s a curmudgeon. Surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm to a shark in 2003 and thus presumably feels some commonality with Winter, appears briefly as herself. Writer-director Charles Martin Smith turns up onscreen as well, as a cetological bureaucrat, and it’s nice to see him returning to his former, highly useful career as a character actor.
But for the kids in the audience, of course, the real stars of Dolphin Tale 2 are the animals—not just Winter and Hope but also a sea turtle and a comic-relief pelican. Smith could perhaps have used more of these creatures and less of the teen drama stuff, but he keeps things light and colorful, and at the end we’re shown real video footage of some of the rescues and releases depicted in the movie, seemingly just to quiet any suspicions we may have that this Tale is tall.