When I write the "Cookie Awards" in my annual Oscar-season column for the Quad-City Times, I always include this category: Most Embarrassing Crying Spell.
There is no question which movie will "win" the award this time around. I admit it: I bawled when I watched "Dolphin Tale," and the waterworks really started at the very end. Suffice it to say that I would gladly spend $10 to watch the last 10 minutes of this film again. To call it "moving" is an understatement.
To be sure, this is a Hollywood treatment that's based on what actually happened to Winter, a real bottlenose dolphin that ended up losing part of her tail in an accident. Winter appears as herself in this movie that I simply cannot call a "family film." Of course it's ideal for families, but grownups, please take note: You will enjoy it, too, with or without kids or grandchildren.
Nathan Gamble plays Sawyer, a lonesome boy who lives alone with his mother (Ashley Judd). Sawyer helps rescue Winter when she becomes trapped in a crab trap line. She then is taken to the Clearwater (Fla.) Marine Aquarium, where a veterinarian (Harry Connick Jr.) works with his staff to help the animal learn to swim again. Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), the vet's daughter, becomes friends with Sawyer, who has a positive effect on Winter's recovery.
Winter's injuries are so severe that her tail has to be amputated so she can survive. Although Winter learns to swim again, the motion she uses can injure her. It's Sawyer who comes up with the idea of turning to a prosthetics expert to build an artificial tail.
Whether this works out right away I'll leave for you to see. Whatever you do, don't leave before the very end. These are the moments that will allow you to see how profoundly Winter has affected the lives of children and adults facing various challenges, and these scenes, although fleeting, are worth the price of admission alone.
The screenplay never stoops to body-function humor or content - rare in today's so-called "family movies." And it doesn't shy away from the way injuries affect any creature emotionally. (That, and Winter's rescue, earned the picture a "PG" rather than a "G" rating.) It treats neither its characters nor its audience in a condescending manner.
To gear up to see the show, I think it would be a good idea to visit the SeeWinter.com website. Then see the movie. Take your friends and your kids, regardless of their age. And take a handkerchief.