September 22, 2011

A ‘Dolphin Tale’ worth catching

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Relationships at 9:49 pm by dinaheng

Good family films with inspiring messages that can be watched by people of all ages tend  to be few and far between, so when a good one comes along, you want to make special note.

Dolphin Tale,” inspired by the true story of a wounded dolphin named Winter and the humans who became her family, is one of those films. In real life, it was December 2005 when three-month-old Winter was caught in a crab trap line, losing her entire tail and two vertebrae from her injuries.

Her rescuers at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, Inc., a human prosthetics company, and Dr. Mike Walsh, a marine mammal veterinarian, joined together to come up with a prosthetic tail for the dolphin. What they invented has benefitted thousands of humans who have lost their limbs, as well.

In the film, scheduled for release on Friday, Winter’s plight brings together Sawyer, (Nathan Gamble) a lonely young boy, Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) a dedicated marine biologist, and Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), a quirky and brilliant prosthetics designer. As the humans work to save Winter’s life, she becomes a healing force that brings hope to the disabled, including Sawyer’s cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), an Army veteran who’s lost a leg in combat.

“What attracted me to the film was the positive message in it,” says director Charles Martin Smith. “Winter’s a character who does not give up, in the face of all obstacles, and we can all learn from that. By helping Winter, the humans in the film are helping themselves. It shares the lesson that what we give out in the world, we get back.”

For Harry Connick, Jr., working on the family film gave him a glimpse into a world he had not known about before.

“I love to fish, so am out on the water a lot, but this was seeing things from a different perspective,” Connick says. “It was an education being with the staff at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, who taught us about marine life and these animals. What they do is an under-funded, passionate vocation. My favorite part was showing up to work everyday and being with Winter.”

Connick says interacting with Winter was an amazing experience, as the dolphin’s actions convinced him that she was an intelligent creature with feelings of her own.

“I’m a loud, physical person, and we couldn’t behave like that around her,” Connick says. “When you were in the pool with her, you got the sense she was human-like. She taught me how to be quiet, which my wife is thrilled about.”

Bringing quiet strength and an eccentric personality to the role of  Dr. McCarthy was a fun project for Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”), whose talents have garnered him numerous Oscar, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice Award  nominations.

“It was an amusing, interesting part in a very nice story,” Freeman says. “A character has to jump out of the script at me. I’m not modeled after (either of the two men) who actually designed the dolphin’s tail. I did learn that a dolphin’s body is not meant to go from side to side.”

Sharing some poignant scenes with Freeman was relative newcomer Austin Stowell, whose character Kyle returns from war an injured, disheartened man, far from the champion swimmer he was before joining the military.

“When they told me who was cast as Dr. McCarthy, I was like…um, no problem,” Stowell says. “But the night before was nerve racking. I turned on the TV and there was ‘Invictus’ (which starred Freeman as Nelson Mandela). I thought, I’m going to work in the morning, and I’m going to work with that guy.”

Stowell got past his nervousness on set, and says working with Freeman was an honor he’ll never forget.

“Morgan’s very comfortable with himself, and he taught me that,” Stowell says. “Love me or hate me. Here I am. Working on this film was my wildest dream come true. I hope kids look at this movie and Winter’s story, and realize that if they can set a goal and work hard, they can achieve it.’

If Winter could speak, no doubt, she would agree.

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