Dreams don’t come with sequels and neither do movies based on true stories, but never say never. The true rescue of the dolphin Winter was a dream come true for Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMN) in Florida when the story became a wildly successful movie. It turned around the financially strapped aquarium—from 78,000 visitors a year to 750,000—while touching the hearts of children and amputees around the world. The rescue of a second dolphin, Hope, became the sequel that has continued the dream.
Dolphin Tale 2 continues the first Dolphin Tale movie with the story of Winter, a maimed dolphin who had a prosthetic tale made for her and is now a beloved resident of the aquarium. Hope, another baby dolphin rescued one day after the five-year anniversary of Winter’s rescue, became the second chapter in that real-life story.
The CMN staff was invited to the wrap party to celebrate the completion of the Dolphin Tale movie. It was there that they learned that a two-month-old dolphin had been rescued trying to nurse from her dead mother and was on the way to the aquarium. Rubbing shoulders with Hollywood stars may be fun, but they had work to do and did not hesitate to leave the party.
“We have a sequel!” David Yates, CEO of the aquarium and an executive producer of Dolphin Tale 2, had announced that night. It seemed more of a joke at the time, but Yates was not kidding. In an interview during the filming of Dolphin Tale 2, Yates said, “The timing was unbelievable. The fact that Hope came to us during the wrap party was incredible enough but there were so many similarities too.” He explained that they were both female Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and were rescued at the same age. Although the coincidence was amazing, Yates smiled, nodded above and said that he puts his faith and all that he does in God’s hands. And he was persistent in his belief that Hope would keep the story going.
Not until after the success of the first movie about Winter’s amazing rescue and miraculous rehabilitation due to the creation of a prosthetic tale, was Yate’s prediction taken seriously. Charles Martin Smith, veteran actor and director, had directed the first Dolphin Tale and wrote and directed the second movie. “This idea for the sequel took on a life of it’s own,” he said. “I knew it had to be built around the true story of Hope and have the same inspirational qualities.” Smith said he thought of the changes that had taken place since the first movie—how time and changes affect our lives—and that became the theme of the second movie.
He described the drama in the first Dolphin Tale as one of reacting to situations while there is more acting from emotions in the second. “It’s about the human condition and how we are in this world with animals,” he said.
With the script in hand, Smith invited the entire main cast back to Clearwater for the sequel. And they came. All of them.
Harry Connick Jr. an award-winning musician and actor who plays aquarium veterinarian Dr. Clay Haskett, shared his surreal experience of making Dolphin Tale 2. “When they brought Hope in and we oohed and ahhed at how cute she was, we had already become characters in the beginning of the next movie.”
He said the making of the Dolphin Tale movies has had a bigger impact on his life than any other movie. “My daughters, ages 18, 16, and 12, have grown up around Dolphin Tale and have spent a lot of time here in Clearwater.” He said that the cast have become very close. “We genuinely love each other and are in each other’s lives. We would all go out to dinner together even though we had just spent the whole day together on the set.”
Initially, Connick said he was skeptical that there could be a sequel. “I wasn’t interested in doing a sequel but when I read the script, I thought the second movie could be even better than the first in some ways; it deals more with human relationships.” He said that the second movie has a deeper meaning. “It brought back a message one of my music instructors once gave me: ‘You can probably be as famous as you want but it’s important for you to do things for the right reasons.’” According to Connick, Dolphin Tale 2 is about stepping back and making the right decisions. “The spiritual message is not overt,” he said. “It reflects that by adhering to a Christian environment, a good life will manifest itself naturally.”
Cozi Zuehlsdorff who plays Hazel and debuts her singing and song writing in Dolphin Tale 2, and Nathan Gamble who plays Sawyer, really have grown up in the Dolphin Tale movies. Both are exceptionally poised, homeschooled teenagers with a contagious exuberance for their Christian faith and life.
“In this second movie, we are more mature and dramatic and our audience is too,” “Cozi said.
“We are both reacting to changes in our lives,” Nathan agreed. “I especially appreciate that during moments when our characters disagreed and wanted to stand up, they portrayed healthy relationships with parents.”
Both of the teen stars explained that they valued their own parents, and are put off by movies where kids act disrespectful to appear cool or to get a laugh. “If you want respect, you need to be worthy of it by honoring your father and mother,” Cozi said. “There is conflict in the movie, but there is always respect too.”
In this way, the movie offers an important lesson,” Nathan added. “Kids often act like their favorite characters.”
“As actors, we need to be make sure we are being a positive influence because we hear from kids that they have watched the Dolphin Tale seventy times, so the message is important,” Cozi said.
Austin Stowell, who plays Kyle, a young army veteran and cousin to Sawyer, described the making of the Dolphin Tale movies as “a once in a lifetime experience that we got to do twice.” In the sequel, he said Kyle’s new service is to his community. “We were able to experience the day to day life at the aquarium,” he said. “It’s a raw lifestyle and a thankless job. I really admire the people who do this kind of work.”
The other Austin—Austin Highsmith played Phoebe, Winter’s lead trainer. “I cried so many times between the story, working with the dolphins, and the beautiful underwater scenes,” she said. “Aesthetically, it is amazing how well the natural beauty was captured.” She shared that one of the touching elements for her was to be on set when a six-year-old girl with autism came to visit Winter. “This girl could not focus very well but I was amazed at how she could focus with the Dolphins.”
Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who became an inspiration after having her arm bit off by a shark then won a national surfing title one month later, makes an appearance and swims with Winter in the movie. During the set visit, with her new husband, nearby, she shared that the movie about her experience “Soul Surfer” has given her the opportunity to be a role model to others. “It’s an honor to be a part of this movie that has the same message,” she said. “It’s about moving forward and not giving up.”
Dolphin Tale 2 opens in theaters September 12, 2014. It is rated PG and runs 1 hr. 47 min.
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