Amy Levin: It’s only the end of January and many of us are already in winter break withdrawal – missing those precious days when you can sit back, relax with your nieces and nephews and watch those fun, PG-rated, faithy, family films about saving cute animals and. . . yourself? Yes, the days when Disney got away with feeding kids spoonfuls of gendered and racially flavored sugar are perhaps behind us (no they’re not), but we’re certainly far from beyond consuming tales infused with religious ingredients, that is, Dolphin Tale (watch the trailer here, if it doesn’t make you tear up, I don’t know what will).
Dolphin Tale is the “amazing true story” of the friendship between a boy and a bottlenose dolphin named Winter, who he helps rescue when Winter is caught in a crab trap off the cost of Florida. Winter is taken in by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where a group of “compassionate strangers” (played by the handsome Harry Connick, Jr., wholesome Ashley Judd, righteous Morgan Freeman, and older-and-wiser Kris Kristofferson) work together to find a way for Winter to survive given her severely damaged tail which they’re forced to amputate. According to Winter’s own website, “Without a tail, Winter’s prognosis is dire. It will take the expertise of a dedicated marine biologist, the ingenuity of a brilliant prosthetics doctor, and the unwavering devotion of a young boy to bring about a groundbreaking miracle – a miracle that might not only save Winter but could also help scores of people around the world.” Who are these scores of people? Apparently, those who are disabled and can benefit from prosthetic limbs, like Winter, with the help of a miracle of course.
Dolphin Tale has everything you’d want in a warm-and-fuzzy, heart-gripping family film: cute animals, earnest young children, optimistic adult role models, wise elders who know from experience that one should never give up hope, and even a mother in heaven who is ready to listen when Winter needs help. Yes, when hope runs out after a severe hurricane threatens the aquarium’s already dire financial situation (the writers took some poetic license here), one of the young helpers prays to her mother. The kids then come up with the idea to throw a “Save Winter Day” fundraiser, and we all know what happens in the end; it goes the way all miraculous stories do. We’ll never know if it’s the charitable individuals who find it in their hearts to help Winter, or someone in heaven who pulled through a miracle, but these Christian values may have boosted the financial success of the movie (grossing $89,664,846) just as much as they did poor Winter’s tail.
You might argue that a little light prayer in family movies is nothing new, but I figured something was fishy when I discovered that Dolphin Tale was produced by Alcon Entertainment, the same producers of The Blind Side. If you don’t remember this blockbuster favorite, picture Sandra Bullock as a blond, evangelical virtuous mom who takes in a poor, uneducated African American kid(“Big Mike”) who ends up playing for the NFL. It’s another uplifting “extraordinary true story” about saintly people saving the helpless.
Want more big miracles? Let me introduce Big Miracle, a film coming out in 2012 inspired by another true story, this time about restless, compassionate individuals in a fight to save a family of grey whales trapped in an ice formation in the Atlantic. Don’t worry about confusing this movie with the others. Ashley Judd is not Drew Barrymore. Case closed.
One could argue that these feel-good movies are just as American as they are Christian – indeed, the two may be synonymous, particularly when it comes to “family movies.” However, browse to a review of Dolphin Tale on a family Movie Guide and you’ll find that “DOLPHIN TALE is a movie that respects life and extols intelligent design.” Catholic News Service felt it sent a “pro-life message,” and calls it a “rare family-friendly film that is wholesome and fun, while offering lessons in faith, perseverance, and respect for those who are physically challenged.” Like the plethora of family movies that espouse charitable, “pro-life” (that is, pro-living?) messages, secular viewers will see these miracles as an outcome of the characters’ doing while religious viewers may see it as God’s. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
However, (and I may be over-reading, oh graduate school), but during this ever-so-entertaining GOP race for a presidential candidate, I worry when I can’t distinguish between watching debates about “pro-life” issues and charitable giving and chill time with my refusing-to-eat-fish-after-watching-Dolphin-Tale-7-year-old nephew. It’s almost like when I found out that Amy Grant’s God wasn’t the Hebrew one. . .