Dolphin Tale (Warner Brothers) – Disabilities Don’t Have to Hold You Back

Dolphin Tale (Warner Brothers) – 2011 – PG

Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Nathan Gamble, Kris Kristofferson, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Austin Stowell

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Click here to buy “Dolphin Tale” on Amazon


This film was inspired by the true tale of the dolphin, Winter, who loses her tail after being caught in a crab trap. Eleven-year-old Sawyer helps her out of the trap, and her rescue helps to bring him out of his depression over the abandonment of his father. She teaches him that the power of family and love can help you to overcome any obstacle – even the physical loss of part of your own body. In saving Winter, Sawyer and his new friends also save the spirits of many others who face the challenge of amputation and prosthetics.

This movie also teaches children about dolphins and aquatic wildlife. They see that dolphins are creatures with emotions, just like us. Dolphins like to play and socialize the same way humans do, and they even have their own method of communicating how they feel and what they want. We also learn about a dolphin’s survival skills, and a bit about their anatomy. We are shown in detail how important their tails are to their survival. In addition, children are introduced to prosthesis, and how they help those with limb differences. Most importantly, though, we witness the fact that just because someone has a limb difference, certainly does not mean that they cannot lead a full and productive life.

(If you have additional ideas on how this film can be used for educational purposes, please let us know in the comments.)

(This movie is based on the true story of Winter, the dolphin, and can also be seen on

Sawyer, a young boy in Clearwater, Florida, has isolated himself after his father left him and his mother. He feels devastated and alone except for his mother and older cousin, Kyle. When Kyle leaves for military training, Sawyer retreats even further away from society, falling behind in school, and having to attend summer school. On his way to class one morning, he rides his bike past the beach and sees a dolphin on the sand, trapped in the ropes of a crab trap. As a nearby fisherman calls for help, Sawyer does his best to cut the dolphin free from the ropes, and gently soothes the frightened animal. The rescue squad from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium arrives, and takes the dolphin away to receive medical attention. After school that day, Sawyer stops by the aquarium on his bicycle, and lets himself in the backdoor. He bumps into Hazel, a girl his own age whose father works at the aquarium. She likes having company, but also realizes that it was her mistake that the door was unlocked. She sneaks Sawyer in to see the dolphin he helped to rescue, and it is soon discovered that the dolphin named Winter has a strong connection to the boy who was so kind to him when she was in need. They allow Sawyer to continue coming to help, and he begins skipping summer school to do so. His mother is at first furious when she finds out, but is eventually convinced to let him continue working with the dolphin, since it seems to be the  miracle they needed to break Sawyer out of his depression. Winter’s tale fin, however, refuses to heal, and eventually requires amputation. Winter is determined to be able to swim anyway, and she soon teaches herself to swim by swinging the remainder of her tail side to side instead of up and down, they way a dolphin normally swims.

Meanwhile, word arrives that Sawyers cousin, Kyle has been injured in an accident, and is coming home from the military. They go to visit him at the VA hospital, meeting the prosthetics doctor as they see Kyle missing part of his leg. Kyle’s self loathing is so great that he will not allow anyone near him. Sawyer’s experience with the two amputees begins a journey for both the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Sawyer’s family towards healing. Their inspirational story heals many others as well.


Dr. Cameron McCarthy: (Talking to Kyle when he says he can’t swim anymore because he’s “broken” with a prosthetic leg. Dr. McCarthy walks over to table, picks up and glass, drops it and it shatters on the ground) “Now, THAT’S broken.”


Dr. McCarthy: [from trailer] In this changing world, it’s harder than ever to find something extraordinary, but every once in a while a symbol of hope breaks through. And this time, her name is Winter.


Hazel Haskett: What does your dad do?
Sawyer Nelson: I don’t know. He left like five years ago. We don’t know where he is. He never calls, never writes.
Hazel Haskett: Oh.
Sawyer Nelson: So what does your mom do?
Hazel Haskett: She died when I was seven. Never calls, never writes.


Gloria Forrest: No dolphin has ever been known to lose it’s entire tail, and survive.

Dr. McCarthy: Trying to put a tail on a fish? Nobody in his right mind would even try it. Luckily, I’m not.
Sawyer: Not what?
Dr.  McCarthy: In my right mind.

Dr. McCarthy: I want you to custom make some parts for me. Not like anything we’ve done before. May not work, and I can’t pay you.
Prosthetic Consultant: [smiling] Other than that I should be excited, right? Who’s the patient?
[Shows him a photo of a dolphin, he stops smiling]


Gloria Forrest: Every aquarium in the country says it’s hopeless.
Trainer: Well, they haven’t met Winter yet.


Dr. Clay Haskett: We can’t make her want to life – she’s gonna have to do that part on her own.


Lorraine Nelson: You are going to school tomorrow and that is it. Period.
Sawyer: But Winter needs me.


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