Young loner Sawyer (Gamble) finds a dolphin washed up on the Florida coast one day, its tail caught in a crab net. Local marine vet Clay Haskett (Connick Jr) takes the creature – who is christened Winter by Haskett’s daughter Hazel – back to his aquarium and allows Sawyer to visit, so soon the lonely boy is making friends, not just with Hazel but with the stricken dolphin, too. Unfortunately, Winter’s tail is too infected to be saved, and Sawyer knows without it she won’t be able to swim, so he takes it upon himself to contact a crusty old doctor who specialises in making prosthetics for humans. Will he be able to help Winter? And are you sobbing yet?
An adorable family film in the same vein as those live action wildlife movies of the seventies, this tugs at the heartstrings without ever getting bogged down in sickly sentiment. Gamble is cute without being annoying, and there is nice support from Connick Jr, an enjoyably grumpy Freeman, and Ashley Judd as Sawyer’s single mum (and, thank goodness, the scriptwriters don’t conjure up a love story between her and widower Haskett). There’s fun here, sadness (Sawyer’s cousin is a soldier injured overseas), and even a little danger (a hurricane threatens the rundown aquarium), but what truly makes the movie memorable is the fact that the lovely story of Winter is actually true, with the real Winter playing herself (and she’s fab). With an underlying message of seeing beyond disability (there’s a real-life montage over the end credits featuring Winter swimming with disabled children) and helping others, this is a truly lovely movie that will melt even the hardest of hearts.
Note: the real Winter lives at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and you can watch her on a live webcam at www.seewinter.com.
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