Story Theater Movie of the Week for Oct. 31-Nov. 2

Staff Writer
Story City Herald
Story Theater Movie of the Week for Oct. 31-Nov. 2

Several years have passed since young Sawyer Nelson and the dedicated team at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), headed by Dr. Clay Haskett, rescued Winter, a young dolphin who lost her tail after being entangled in a crab trap. With the help of Dr. Cameron McCarthy, who developed a unique prosthetic tail for Winter, they saved her life against all odds. In turn, she helped save the Aquarium-as people came from far and wide to see the courageous dolphin firsthand, enabling CMA to expand their mission to Rescue, Rehabilitate and, when possible, Release injured animals.

Yet their fight is not over. Winter’s surrogate mother, the elderly dolphin Panama, passes away, leaving Winter alone and grieving, unwilling to engage with anyone, even her best friend, Sawyer. However, the loss of Panama may have even greater repercussions for CMA. The USDA warns Clay they will have to move Winter from the Aquarium because regulations require these social creatures to be paired. If they don’t find a female companion for her - one that she accepts - CMA will lose their beloved Winter.

But as time runs out, there may still be Hope…

A New Tale

In September 2011, moviegoers were introduced to Winter, the dolphin whose astounding true story was dramatized in the family film “Dolphin Tale.” She had already been something of a local celebrity at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), the non-profit marine animal rescue facility on the Gulf Coast of Florida. After the release of the movie, however, her fame grew exponentially, as did her impact on CMA, as well as on people the world over who were inspired by her courage and resilience.

Charles Martin Smith, the director of the original film, who returned to write and direct “Dolphin Tale 2,” (rated PG for mild situations; and with a running time of 107 min.) offers, “I think it was a combination of factors that caused ‘Dolphin Tale’ to resonate with audiences. The idea that a dolphin could have so desperate an injury and lose her tail, and that a team of strangers would rally around her to save her with a first-of-its-kind prosthetic, was so improbable and yet it’s true. And Winter’s own spirit moved people so deeply. So many have come up to me and said how affected they were by the film. I thought we would touch people with ‘Dolphin Tale’; I didn’t realize how much. It has been truly gratifying.”

Producer Andrew A. Kosove adds, “It’s a story of perseverance, of overcoming obstacles and succeeding, and also of compassion. Those are themes that most of us can relate to in one way or another, and they are messages that most parents want their children to experience. I think that’s why the first ‘Dolphin Tale’ worked-not just as a kids’ movie, but as a true family film, for adults and children to enjoy together.”

Despite its success, the filmmakers never envisioned a sequel to “Dolphin Tale,” as it was based on actual events. Producer Richard Ingber, who had been responsible for bringing Winter’s story to the attention of Alcon Entertainment, explains, “In terms of movies, true stories are usually told and then you go home. We didn’t even have any thoughts that there could be a sequel.”

However, on the very night that the cast and crew had gathered to celebrate the completion of the first film “an event happened that changed everything,” Ingber continues. “We were all at the wrap party when the Aquarium got the call that a baby dolphin was in trouble and needed rescue…and was there any possibility that they could bring her to CMA.”

There were fears the infant dolphin was too young even to survive the trip, but she did, resulting in her new name: Hope.

David Yates, the CEO of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and an executive producer on “Dolphin Tale 2,” recounts, “Everything unfolded that night. The fact that Hope came to us during the wrap party of ‘Dolphin Tale’ was incredible enough, but the similarities between Winter’s rescue and Hope’s rescue are unbelievable. They’re both Atlantic bottlenose dolphins; they are both females; they were both about the same age when they arrived; and they were found in the same part of Florida by the same rescue team. The odds of all that happening are so small.”

When the van carrying CMA’s newest resident pulled in, much of the cast and crew were there to witness her being hand carried directly to the pool, where staff members were ready and waiting to care for her.

Harry Connick, Jr. recalls, “Everybody was oohing and aahing because she was just so adorable, never thinking that what we were watching would, in time, prompt a completely new storyline that would bring us back together.”

It wasn’t until months later, when the filmmakers saw the response to “Dolphin Tale,” that they began considering the idea of continuing Winter’s story with the addition of Hope. The baby had been stranded too young to have learned the life skills necessary to survive in the wild, so she, like Winter, will always reside at CMA, where the two have become poolmates.

“It was an idea that took on its own life, which was fantastic,” says Smith. “I loved that I had the opportunity to go back and show more of the good work of CMA that we weren’t able to fit into the first movie-especially emphasizing their mandate to Rescue, Rehabilitate and, when possible, Return the animals that come into their care to the wild. I believe in that very deeply and share their commitment. It was important this time to show the successful rehab and release of animals.”

CMA’s mission hasn’t changed, although a lot of other things have evolved over the past three years.

Yates details, “‘Dolphin Tale’ exploded our educational outreach all around the world. We went from average attendance of about 78,000 people in 2006 to 750,000 after the film came out. Everything has been revolutionized by the movie in one way or another and all of it has allowed us to help many more animals. We have new operating rooms, expanded animal care areas, new kitchens and food preps areas, new labs, and new pools, including the one that was generously built as a permanent installation for the previous movie, which enabled us to take in Hope.”

As with the arrival of Hope, “Dolphin Tale 2” depicts another true and equally life-changing event - the sad passing of Panama, an elderly dolphin who was one of CMA’s most beloved residents and Winter’s surrogate mother. In the film, her death means that Winter will need a new companion, as dictated by the USDA.

Smith says change became a central theme of his screenplay, for both the animals and the humans. “Time goes on and change is inevitable. Children grow up, there is death and new life… We can’t turn back the clock, so we just have to embrace what comes. That’s what this film is about to me.”

Producer Broderick Johnson notes, “‘Dolphin Tale 2 really is Charles’ vision. His screenplay reflected the spirit and the DNA of the original movie, with all the characters that audiences loved, along with a few new ones. We had a lot of fun shooting the first film, and we were very excited about the idea of going back and revisiting Winter with all the actors.”

“Dolphin Tale 2” reunites Smith and the producers with the entire cast of the earlier film, who all say they leapt at the chance to return to Clearwater and to team again with the director, as well as one another.

“Of all the movie experiences I’ve had, I’d have to rank ‘Dolphin Tale’ as one of the best, and that starts with Charles Martin Smith,” affirms Connick. “If you have a director who is really passionate, as well as talented, it sets the tone for the whole production. It all trickled down from Charles. He’s very thoughtful and artistic and knows when to give direction and when to stand back. And getting to work with Winter again was a thrill. To have a great movie experience once is a luxury, but to have it twice…that’s really a blessing.”

Morgan Freeman agrees. “I think Charles is a terrific director. He wrote the script so he knew what he wanted, but he’s also an actor, so he has that understanding of the job.”

Their sentiments are echoed by the younger generation. “It was such a blast to be back and working with everyone again,” says Nathan Gamble. “It was also an honor because I’ve had both kids and adults come up to me and say how much ‘Dolphin Tale’ inspired them, and you have no idea how wonderful that makes me feel.”

Rounding out the main returning cast are Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Austin Stowell and Austin Highsmith. Bethany Hamilton, the inspiring young woman who has become known as the “soul surfer,” joins the cast, playing herself.

There is also the non-human ensemble, led, of course, by Winter, with a variety of other animals providing some comic relief. An audience favorite from the first film, the troublemaking pelican, Rufus, is back to find a decidedly unfeathered friend in a sea turtle named Mavis.

Smith remarks, “I couldn’t wait for the start of filming. It was like a family reunion. Everyone involved in ‘Dolphin Tale’ had stayed in touch so I had a sense that all the actors would want to come back, and I’m so glad they did.”

—taken from the production notes of Dolphin Tale 2, courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures