A young dolphin is caught in a crab trap, severely damaging her tail. When she is transported to the Clearwater Marine Hospital in Florida, many doubt that she would survive the damage, but she still gets a name -- Winter. A group of dedicated people save her life and make hers a triumph against severe odds.
The real-life story of Winter, embellished for the big screen, is now promising to be a sleeper hit. The big story this week in North America is not that The Lion King, the 17-year-old film in re-release, has had a second smash week, and that Moneyball has received solid reviews and an encouraging opening.
The big story is that despite millions of families flocking to see The Lion King on the big screen and spending over $22 million on it over the weekend in North America, there was a big welcome for Dolphin Tale.
It opened with $20 million, and word of mouth publicity for the film is so strong that it could be around for more than two months, gaining new audiences with each passing week. A sleeper hit doesn't open with a big bang but starts with decent numbers and whereas many films fall by about 40 per cent in the second week, the sleeper hit declines by a small percentage. It remains steady for many more weeks.
While Dolphin Tale was creating a big splash across America and Canada, in the foreign territories another family film, The Smurfs, grossed an estimated $12.9 million over the weekend and its worldwide gross exceeded $500 million. The film, which cost about $130 million, is expected to end its run with about $525 million.
In Dolphin Tale it takes the expertise of a committed marine biologist, the ingenuity of a brilliant prosthetics doctor, and the devotion of a young boy to bring about a miracle that should inspire the down-beaten anywhere.
The strengths of the film, which features the real Winter, is that it is heartwarming without being mushy and that it has good humour and solid performances.
It will start rolling out worldwide in a few weeks.
The film is produced by the same production company that made The Blind Side, inspired by a true life story two years ago. The inspirational story of a white family in American South that adopts a black boy and nudges him to become a football champion was a sleeper hit too. It grossed about $300 million worldwide, and got an Oscar for Sandra Bullock. Like Dolphin Tale, it too cost about $40 million.
'Dolphin Tale is about overcoming adversity, about persistence, and about courage -- qualities that human beings can relate to at a very core level,' says producer Andrew A. Kosove in the press notes, adding that this would be one strong reason for the film's appeal across the world. He adds: 'What makes it even more special is that those qualities are seen through the experiences of an animal.'
The film stars Harry Connick, Jr as Dr Clay Haskett, who runs the Clearwater Marine Hospital; Ashley Judd as Lorraine Nelson, a single mother; Nathan Gamble as her son, Sawyer, who frees Winter from the trap and forms a deep connection with her; Cozi Zuehlsdorff as Hazel, Clay's daughter, who befriends Sawyer; Kris Kristofferson as Clay's father, Reed; and two times Oscar winner Morgan Freeman as Dr Cameron McCarthy, who takes on the challenge of creating a new limb for Winter.
Director Charles Martin Smith says in the press book for the film, 'One of the larger themes of the film is that we--people, animals, nature -- are all in this together. We are part of an overall community that extends beyond our human family, and I think the movie speaks to that in a meaningful and entertaining way, with both humour and heart.'
Harry Connick, Jr had a rare experience working with Winter and observing other dolphins. 'When you look at a dolphin, you know there is a connection,' he muses. 'You can see the intelligence in their eyes; it's almost as if they can look right through us. I felt that the whole time I was making this movie.'
The movie is showing at some 3500 locations in America, on some 4,000 screens, and it is expected to hold on to the screen count for several weeks.
Though a few mainstream newspapers, including The New York Times, panned the film, it received many glowing reviews across the board. The critics who saw it with kids were among the more enthusiastic.
'I saw it in a Sunday afternoon preview with an audience of children who were quiet, mesmerised and completely enraptured,' wrote the veteran critic Rex Reed in New York Observer. 'No wonder. Winter is friendly, loving, emotional, playful, brave and intelligent. Before her Dolphin Tale is over, I dare even the most jaded cynic not to shed a tear of admiration and joy.'