It was Flipper who opined: There are no second acts in dolphin life. You’re born, you swim, you spawn, you die.
Yet in the original “Dolphin Tale,” a sea creature called Winter got a temporary reprieve from placement on God’s trophy wall. In that true story, a Florida boy named Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) rescued the female dolphin from a crab trap, but she lost her tail fin in the incident. Nathan enlisted the help of a small, family-run marine hospital in Clearwater, which turned to scientist Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) to build Winter a prosthetic tail.
Sooner than you could say holy mackerel, Winter was swimming again, the aquarium staved off some greedy developers and its owner (Harry Connick Jr.) was making guppy eyes at Sawyer’s single mom (Ashley Judd).
Happy ending, right? Yet in an amazing post-script, even before the movie made a whale of a lot of money, the key ingredient for a sequel presented itself on the last day of shooting. That’s when the real-life Clearwater hospital rescued a motherless young dolphin they dubbed Hope. Now the filmmakers have shoehorned Hope into “Dolphin Tale 2,” a family flick that punches the right buttons like a trained seal.
Now in his senior year of high school, Sawyer is the chief tour guide at the hospital-cum-aquarium, which has been packed with visitors since Winter became a media sensation. To heal the many needy creatures, Sawyer works closely with Hazel Haskett (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), the teen daughter of the facility’s owner. But just as the movie is coy about the relationship between Dr. Haskett and Sawyer’s mom, we never get the expected spark in the narrative vacuum between Hazel and Sawyer.
This movie is as squeaky clean as a new beach ball, and the few waves in the water are all-too-easily navigated. As soon as Winter’s pool companion Panama dies of old age and the federal inspector (director Charles Martin Smith) warns that a dolphin can’t live solo, Hope arrives. And when Winter can’t keep up with her frisky new playmate, Dr. McCarthy arrives with a new and improved prosthetic tail.
Add a barking pelican for comic relief and “Dolphin Tale 2” is a coo-inducing movie that runs on autopilot without veering into the realm of bad taste. The film’s apparent sensitivity to the hot topic of marine-animal rights means that if Winter were ever released, she wouldn’t be inclined to write a memoir called “12 Years A Sideshow Attraction.”
What “Dolphin Tale 2” • Two and a half stars out of four • Rating PG • Run time 1:47 • Content Some mild thematic elements