Two movie weekends are the best! Yesterday it was the Lion King, and today all four of us went to see A Dolphin Tale, which is based on the true story of Winter, a dolphin who got wrapped up in a rope attached to a crab fishing cage. She was rescued but lost her tail, and then survived against all odds, inspiring many others including human amputees, along the way.
That’s the main story, anyway.
Almost as good, at least in our family, was the secondary story of the two 11 year old kids in the movie. Sawyer, the boy, is one of those shy kids who would rather be building remote control helicopters in his garage than hanging out at the pool. He has no real friends. He is failing in school and required to take summer school. He hates it. One day while riding his bike to school (alone on a road, I might add), he is flagged down by a man on the beach who has spotted the trapped dolphin. (Egads! An 11 year old boy stopping at the request of a complete stranger – and a man! What kind of movie is this, anyway?) They call in the marine rescue crew and the following day Sawyer, curious to know what happened to the dolphin, goes to the marine hospital after summer school.
There he meets Hazel, a girl who is homeschooled. I love that the movie makes this admission casually and that it is received matter of factly by Sawyer. It is no big deal. But in a way it is central to the movie. Hazel asks Sawyer if he likes school and his response is that he mostly gets F’s. Hazel says, “You just haven’t found a subject you’re interested in yet.” And she’s right, because as soon as he is allowed to help with Winter’s rehab, he becomes a great student of everything involving dolphins and sea creatures. He skips summer school to spend his days at the Marine Hospital and when his mother finds out she is initially irate, but when she realizes that her son is learning about something of his choosing; not only learning but learning passionately and that he has friends and is respected by those around him, she allows him to stay.
For me, that’s the best message of the movie. Two 11 year old children who are passionate about an animal wind up doing amazing things – raising the money to save not only the dolphin but the Marine Hospital in which she was housed. They do it because they want to and not because they are required to. They are every bit as competent as the adults around them and they live and work in this very grown up world with ease. In fact, where the grown ups see a dead end the kids see possibilities and refuse to give up. Unrealistic? Hollywood ending? I would say that such things are uncommon because most children aren’t allowed to follow their passions. Uncommon, not unrealistic. And yes, the movie does have a Hollywood ending. But in this case, the ending came from real life.
I hope people who see A Dolphin Tale remember not only the story of the dolphin but the story of the kids – the homeschooled girl and the boy who, when allowed to enter her world, becomes the intelligent, social and happy child school never allowed him to be.