Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) is a quiet, gentle boy. He prefers making model aeroplanes and hanging out with his older cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) to being with the other kids at school, who make fun of him. He lives alone with his mother, Lorraine (Ashley Judd), after his dad left them some years before.

Sawyer is riding his bike to school one day when he hears a fisherman calling for help. He runs down to the shore where he finds a young dolphin washed up and tangled in ropes. Sawyer cuts the ropes and stays talking to her while they wait for a rescue team. The dolphin is taken away to a marine aquarium, where they name her Winter. Sawyer manages to get into the aquarium and finds that Winter isn’t going very well. Her tail is badly damaged and she won’t eat. But when she hears Sawyer’s voice, she responds and lets him feed her from a bottle. Winter’s tail has to be amputated and things don’t look good for her. She overcomes her disability, however, and learns to swim.

Unfortunately, Winter’s new way of swimming is damaging her spine. Against all odds Sawyer enlists the help of a prosthetic surgeon, who creates a tail just for her. Winter’s determined spirit is an inspiration to all, not least to young Sawyer. He gets a lot of self-confidence from the experience of looking after her.


Overcoming disability; single-parent families


This movie has some violence. For example, Rufus the pelican is quite aggressive and attacks everyone on first sight.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8

In addition to the violent images mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight years. For example:

  • Some of the boys at school are mean to Sawyer.
  • The movie focuses on single-parent families. Hazel is another child like Sawyer, living in a one-parent family. Her mother died when she was seven.
  • A hurricane destroys much of the marine park. Sawyer and his Mum have to take shelter inside their home.
  • Winter is shown tangled up in ropes, with blood on her mouth and tail.
  • Hazel (the daughter of the marine park owner) is very distressed and cries when she finds out that Winter has to have her tail amputated.
  • Kyle joins the army and goes off to war. He’s injured in an explosion, returns home in a wheelchair and is put into a veterans’ hospital. There are several veterans there with prosthetic arms and/or legs. At the end of the movie, there’s real-life footage showing many disabled children and grown-ups with artificial limbs, who come to visit Winter at the marine park. 

From 8-13

Younger children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above. 

Over 13

Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this movie. 

Sexual references

None of concern 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

None of concern 

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern 

Product placement

None of concern 

Coarse language

This movie has some mild coarse language. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

Dolphin Tale is an inspirational family movie based on a true story. It’s suited to most ages, although younger children could be upset by scenes of the injured dolphin and people with prosthetic limbs. It has been released in both 3D and 2D versions, but the 3D effect doesn’t seem to add much to the movie. The movie is full of positive messages and role models.

The main messages from this movie are that having a disability doesn’t have to stop you from achieving your dreams. The movie also sends the message that family is very important.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include respect for animals, courage, generosity, loyalty and friendship.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues such as bullying. You could ask your children about why the boys at school are mean to Sawyer and won’t let him sit next to them.