The inspiring true story of Winter isn't over. Several years after receiving a prosthetic tail, Winter loses her surrogate mother, leaving her alone, grieving and unwilling to engage with anyone, even her best human friend, Sawyer (Nathan Gamble). Worse, she may have to be moved from her home at the aquarium due to regulations requiring dolphins to be paired. When Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) and his dedicated team can't find her a companion, it looks like they may lose their beloved Winter... until an unexpected turn of events brings them Hope.
My knee jerk reaction to the first 'Dolphin Tale' was to call it "utter crap," but that opinion changed when I re-watched it on Blu-ray at home with my kids. It took seeing my oldest daughter's reaction to realize that, while it's obviously a formulaic and sappy flick, it's also the type of family movie with the ability to strike up a welcome curiosity of science and nature in the growing minds of children. For that reason alone, it's certainly much better than the "crap" label I initially placed on it.
Most movies that are based on true stories do not warrant sequels. The follow-up to an authentic tale isn't usually as interesting as the original tale itself, but as the story of the amputee dolphin Winter continued, the filmmakers realized that this was one of those rare opportunities where furthering story could be just as interesting. 'Dolphin Tale 2' picks up just a few years after the events in the first movie. The hope-inspiring dolphin with a prosthetic tail, Winter, has turned the Clearwater Marine Hospital into a full-fledged attraction. People come from afar to see her and the other rehabilitating animals. As they do in real life, things don't always stay perfect.
Clearwater's fate becomes uncertain when Winter's 40-year-old tank-make Panama dies of old age. A strict USDA regulation requires that female dolphins be paired with at least one other female dolphin when in captivity. Oddly enough, their health can be at risk if not accompanied by an equal, so Winter is being ordered to another marine hospital in Texas. If you've seen it, there's no denying that this is a very 'We Bought A Zoo'-ish storyline. Sawyer and the rest of the Clearwater team – including Harry Connick Jr. and occasionally Morgan Freeman – must find a way to keep their main-attraction friend at Clearwater; if not, they will lose her forever. The goal is to find a new female dolphin to pair with Winter, but all they can do is hope that some miracle will make that happen.
Unlike the first movie, the story of 'Dolphin Tale 2' isn't enough to sustain a feature-length movie. To assist with that, two sub-plots regarding new injured animals are shoehorned into the story – but don't fret that it's mere filler. For what it's worth, both sub-plots are also based on true stories. The closing credits show real footage from the rescue and release of these two animals, one being another dolphin and the other being a sea turtle.
Just like the first movie, some human fluff has been added to 'Dolphin Tale 2.' Early in the movie, Sawyer is selected to attend a semester abroad (on the high seas) with an elite school. The decision to leave Clearwater and Winter in this time of uncertainty adds complication to his life, but at least it makes way for the characters played by Ashley Judd and Austin Stowell to return for the sequel. Morgan Freeman and Kris Kristofferson also return, but just for a few scenes each. Joining the cast is real life "Soul Surfer" Bethany Hamilton. Not only does she appear in two sequences, but she's featured in a gorgeous underwater ballet scene with Winter.
If you're looking for a feel-good light-weight family flick to gift to the children this Christmas season, 'Dolphin Tale 2' is here for your consideration. Who knows, the movie just might spark a scientific curiosity in your children.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Bros. has given 'Dolphin Tale 2' a combo pack Blu-ray release that includes a Region A BD-50, a DVD and a code for the redemption of an Ultraviolet digital copy. The discs are housed in an Elite keepcase that slides vertically into a cardboard slipcase. Prior to the main menu, an unskippable Warner Bros. vanity reel and a regional disclaimer play before skippable trailers for 'Winter: The Dolphin that Can' and 'Hillsong: Let Hope Rise,' as well as a commercial for vacationing in Florida.
As expected from a great and creative digital shoot, 'Dolphin Tale 2' carries a brilliant 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The filmmakers opted to scrap the large 3D cameras used in the first film for more practical 2D cameras for the sequel, resulting in a fantastic footage – especially the underwater shots. With 'Dolphin Tale 2,' they didn't even bother converting it to 3D.
'Dolphin Tale 2' carries wildly vibrant primaries. Many shades of blue are present, but there are also many other colors to see. The palette is very appealing to the eye. Being a mostly bright film, details are always visible. Textures of clothes and swimsuits abound. You'll even notice the tiniest particles floating below the surface of the pools and ocean. Although they don't pop up often, black levels are rich and deep.
The only big complaint that I can see people having is with the opening sequence, but I'm sure that the decision was a directorial one. The movie kicks off with another dolphin being saved by the folks at Clearwater. Made to look like a documentary, the shooting style and the video quality mirror that of a raw footage from the intense event. The camera is shaky and the footage even appears to be grainy and flawed, but I believe it was intentional because the style is nowhere else to be found in the film and it's fitting for the circumstance.
My favorite aspect of the video quality is the crystal clear gorgeous slow motion underwater footage of Winter swimming with humans. It's like watching something out of 'Human Planet.'
Surprisingly, 'Dolphin Tale 2' features a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix. While I didn't expect it to be as strong as most 7.1 audio, it's actually quite effective.
The best aspect of this lossless audio is the constant fullness that it offers. When there's music, it emits from all channels, creating a smooth all-encompassing environment. When the location calls for it – like a beach – sound effects emit from all around, placing you in the middle of the space in which the characters exist. Waves will seamlessly image and splash around you from all 360 degrees. And, somewhat comically, whenever the settings are beachfront, you'll hear dozens and dozens of off-screen seagulls flapping and squawking in the oceanic breeze.
Dialog is always crisp, clear and natural. It's never muffled, raw or blown out. In settings with large groups of people, you'll hear their laughter, chatter and cheers spread from all around. And if those small bits of dialog are meant to be understood, you'll hear them.
Neither of the 'Dolphin Tale' movies are spectacular, but they're both perfect for kids and just might instill a nice little love of nature and science. The first movie was unique and fittingly childish, but the sequel is slightly more mature and continues the true story in an equally fitting fashion. The Blu-ray features both video and audio qualities that are much better than expected. Unfortunately, while there is a high quantity of special features, they are of low quality. Not one of them is longer than four-and-a-half minutes. Despite the lack of potentially educational and informative extras, this Blu-ray combo pack is still a suitable title to consider for the family this holiday season.