Dolphin Tale is a 2011 American 3D family drama film that was released on September 23, 2011.
Sawyer Nelson, a lonely 11-year-old boy, has fallen behind in school since being abandoned by his father five years earlier. His only friend is his cousin Kyle, a champion swimmer who hopes to compete in the Olympics. Kyle leaves to spend time in the army.
One day on his way to summer school, Sawyer finds a fisherman attempting to help an injured dolphin tangled in a crab trap. The dolphin is taken for treatment to Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), run by Doctor Clay Haskett. Clay's daughter Hazel names the dolphin Winter, after two prior dolphins, Summer and Autumn, had been treated successfully and returned to the ocean. Sawyer sneaks in to see Winter, and later starts to visit each day, being harassed by a crazy pelican named Rufus. Sawyer and Hazel's parents were hesitant since Sawyer does not have any experience with marine animals, and Sawyer's mother, Lorraine, since Sawyer is skipping summer school without permission, but they realize that the friendship seems to benefit both Winter and Sawyer. Dr. Clay allows the visits to continue, and Lorraine withdraws Sawyer from summer school and lets him volunteer at CMA, and gives him a new wetsuit.
However, Winter's tail is damaged and must be amputated. Winter learns to swim without a tail by developing a side-to-side motion like a fish, but after an X-ray, Clay notices the unnatural motion is causing stress on her spine, which if continued will disable and eventually kill her.
News comes that Kyle has been injured in an explosion and is returning home for treatment. Sawyer is excited to see him, but devastated when Kyle, skips his own welcoming party and stays at the local Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where Doctor Cameron McCarthy develops prosthetic limbs. Sawyer and his mother visit Kyle there, but Sawyer is insulted when Kyle asks them to leave. Not wanting to upset Sawyer, Kyle takes Sawyer for a walk and explains his situation and that he needs some time. Sawyer then asks Dr. McCarthy if he could make a prosthetic tail for Winter. McCarthy agrees to do so and convinces his prosthetic supplier Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics to supply the parts at no cost. Dr. McCarthy manufactures a "homemade" model tail while waiting for the real one to arrive, but Winter rejects it by banging it against the pool wall. Meanwhile, Kyle gets more depressed when his friend and swimming partner, Donovan Peck, beats Kyle's old swimming records. McCarthy persuades Kyle to go home.
Then CMA, already in financial peril, is heavily damaged by a hurricane. The board of directors agrees to close up and sell the land to a real estate developer, and find homes for all the animals except Winter; due to her condition she is not wanted, and may have to be put down. Kyle visits CMA and sees that Winter is like him, with a damaged limb. However, inspired by a girl with a prosthetic limb whose mother drives her 8 hours from Atlanta, Georgia to visit Winter, Sawyer imagines holding a "Save Winter Day" to save the facility. Clay is not convinced, but he reconsiders after talking with his father, Reed. Kyle agrees to race Donovan Peck and persuades Bay News 9 to cover the event.
The Hanger-supplied tail finally arrives; however, Winter rejects it too. Sawyer then realizes what the real problem is: the plastic base for the tail is irritating her skin. Therefore, McCarthy develops an alternative gel-like sock which he calls "Winter's Gel" (which is the real name of the Hanger product used to attach prosthetic limbs, developed during research with Winter). Winter accepts this new prosthetic tail.
At Save Winter Day, the work with Winter impresses everyone. Sawyer's teacher gives him school credit, allowing him to pass summer school. The fisherman who found Winter on the beach comes too. The real estate developer decides to keep CMA open and to support it financially. With Winter's help, Kyle then wins a swimming race against Donovan.
The ending shows documentary footage from Winter's actual rescue, several of the prosthetic tails that Winter has worn, and scenes of real amputees visiting Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Sound Effects Used
- Sound Ideas, COW - SINGLE MOO, ANIMAL 02 (Heard in normal and high pitch.)