Charles Martin Smith
Harry Connick, Jr
Dolphin Tale 2 (PG)
Drama 107 min. September 12, 2014
Winter's malaise settles in once a dolphin pal of hers dies. (Writer-director Charles Martin Smith handles the upsetting scenes with matter-of-fact tastefulness.) Since they're profoundly social animals, dolphins in captivity need to be paired. Since it's cruel to keep a dolphin captive, and there are few wounded dolphins around, the aquarium staff faces tough choices that make for interesting drama.
By the time Winter needs a friend, a rescued dolphin named Mandy is healthy enough for release -- and young Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), whose family runs the aquarium, campaigns hard to pair up Mandy and Winter anyway. She loves Winter so much that she's willing to sacrifice Mandy's freedom.
Smith structures his story so that it's Hazel herself who discovers she's wrong -- that wild animals aren't pets. (Both kids are strong, naturalistic performers, but Zuehlsdorff, a ginger cut-up with smile enough for two, gets the best scenes.) Occasionally, Winter and the kids glide about together in glorious swim-dance, but the movie's heart and energy lie in the much more moving scenes of animal rescue -- and animal release.