‘Dolphin Tale 2’ is contrived and crowd-pleasing

Dolphin Tale 2

Two and a half stars

Dolphin Tale 2 Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Harry Connick Jr. Directed by Charles Martin Smith. Rated PG. Opens Friday.

As hokey and overstated as it was, 2011’s Dolphin Tale at least had a strong hook: Sure, it included a whole cast of fictional human characters, but the real hero was the dolphin known as Winter, playing herself, an injured animal who was rescued and nursed back to health at Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The story of Winter receiving a prosthetic tail to replace the one she lost is inspiring both for its ingenuity and for its compassion, and director Charles Martin Smith got those ideas across, even if he had to smother them in a contrived storyline about a misunderstood kid finding his place in the world.

Dolphin Tale 2 is also based on true events at Clearwater, but its story doesn’t have the immediacy of Winter getting her new tail. Instead, the sequel focuses on the need to find a companion dolphin for Winter, which Smith (who also wrote the sequel’s screenplay) turns into another narrative about saving the aquarium, this time from the possibility that Winter will be taken away to another facility. In the meantime, kid characters Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) and Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), now teenagers, deal with boring personal dramas of their own, and the adults played by Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman make their requisite appearances.

For audiences just looking for some more cute dolphin antics, Dolphin Tale 2 delivers, with strong showings from several supporting animals as well. And while its story is a bit belabored, it’s not as cloying or hyperactive as a lot of family movies, and it delivers a positive message about the real-life Clearwater facility. Even if Dolphin Tale 2 is just a slick, crowd-pleasing advertisement for the work being done at Clearwater, it could have ended up a lot worse.

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