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September 28, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
It’s probably time to accept that whatever I write here is never going to go viral. This despite being available online in both column and blog form at mauinews.com, not to mention on Facebook, if I remember to file it. Luckily, it doesn’t take more than a hit or two from a happy reader to make my day … since that’s pretty much all I get.
Turns out that the real viral stars are the communicators who can neither speak nor write. Babies are good, especially if they can dance or sound like stockbrokers. But animals — especially those who can play the piano or emit something that sounds like “I love you” — are the ones getting millions of hits.
So you’ve got to figure some of that is going to spill over onto the big screen in “Dolphin’s Tale,” which is about a dolphin who can both “speak” —well, it’s more like Tweety Bird’s whistle —and do her own sorts of dance moves in the water.
This true story about a dolphin named Winter who lost her tale in a crab trap, also stars the actual creature, as they say, “as herself.”
Oops, spoiler alert. If Winter stars in the movie, that must mean she made it through her ordeal OK — right? The suspense factor isn’t the strong suit of this PG-rated story that’s a rarity among family films since it has something different to say to every member of the family. Something good. And knowing that some form of happy ending awaits doesn’t mean you’re not going to shed some tears first.
The film stars Harry Conick Jr., Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman and Kris Kristofferson, with young Nathan Gamble in the pivotal role of a lonely 11-year-old boy who comes to the dolphin’s rescue. From a place between “Whale Rider” and “Free Willy,” saving the creature involves creating a prosthetic tale after hers has to be amputated.
Proclaiming its pedigree “from the producers of ‘The Blind Side,’ ” the project promises to be shamelessly maudlin and manipulative from the outset … which makes it such a happy surprise when director Charles Nelson Smith manages to sidestep most of the sentimental traps in its path.
Along with Winter, everyone in the story turns out to be damaged goods. It takes saving the dolphin to realize it was all about saving themselves.
This is one of those stories where, aside from the obligatory greedy land developer, there are no bad guys. This isn’t the recipe for great drama, but amidst today’s sensory overload of too much information, violence and bad news, we need to see more kindness, just to remember what it looks like. And we need to be reminded of how it feels to cheer for it.
With that tragic killing of a SeaWorld trainer by a whale still in litigation, and New Age entrepreneurs offering groovy chances to swim with dolphins right here in Hawaiian waters, interspecies love between humans and cetaceans is tricky to sort out.
That look on a dolphin’s face that we’re so sure is a smile spurs our fervent desire to be up close and personal with them. Having had my own chance encounter when a pod surrounded me and wanted to play last Easter morning, I’m still feeling the glow.
During a recent interview, “Dolphin Tale” star Morgan Freeman observed that dolphins are unlike other creatures in the wild —not just because they’re so smart, but because of their curiosity and generosity.
They’re the creatures who don’t run —well, swim, actually —and hide from us. They’re the ones who approach in peace, maybe not realizing that our species is as greedy as theirs is giving.
Our species is the one that thinks it’s all about us. We think the dolphins are about us —that they’re here for our amusement. We’re the ones who anthropomorphize, attributing our own characteristics to them, making them leap through the hoops of our fantasies just like the actual hoops at the sea parks.
Maybe that’s OK. Winter doesn’t seem to mind putting up with us silly humans —especially if we fix her tale. The film producers take it one step further, including her as just one more member of the family.
“Dolphin’s Tale” is anathema for snarky movie critics, who begin their reviews with disclaimers about corny tear-jerkers. But it reminded me of an interview I did years ago with Henry Winkler.
The actor iconized as The Fonz on TV’s “Happy Days” had just launched his film career as a director, and had been panned by critics for his maiden effort, “Memories of Me,” for being too sentimental.
“Critics won’t let themselves feel,” he said, as he shared his french fries with the reporters interviewing him over lunch. Good guy, that Fonz.
Obviously, he was still feeling the sting, but I took his words as a lesson. I promised myself that if a movie made me feel something —no matter how corny or ridiculous — I wouldn’t deny it.
“Dolphin Tale” had me from hello. My bet is it will have the same effect on you and your family.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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