Dolphin Tale

True-life family drama tries way too hard

The grading, in this case, is on a generous curve because this inspired by a true story family drama from actor-turned-director Charles Martin Smith has all the hallmarks of a terribly mainstream project (cute kids, returning soldiers with rehabilitation issues, a wounded animal and Morgan Freeman paired with Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr.) with not an ounce of grit or drama to unsettle anyone’s nerves.

Young Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) is a too-shy kid being raised by his single mother (Judd) who happens upon a dolphin injured after getting caught in a crab trap and teams up with a rehabilitation doctor (Connick Jr.) and his gregarious daughter (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) to nurse the dolphin back to health. Parallel complications ensue though because the dolphin loses his tale and a new one must be fabricated, which means that Sawyer must convince a human rehab specialist (Freeman) who fortuitously is also engaged with assisting Sawyer’s soldier cousin (Austin Stowell) to adjust to life after nearly losing his leg in the Middle East.

Could this story be any more perfectly aligned for a huge uplifting finish for the little ones in the likely target audience? If only it hadn’t tried so hard to inspire, maybe this Tale would have earned its mark by sticking a little closer to the hard truth. Grade: C-

Opens wide Sept. 23.