Dolphin Tale

image for Dolphin Tale

Short takes

PG to 10 (Disturbing scenes and themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Dolphin Tale
  • a review of Dolphin Tale completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 15 December 2011.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 10 Parental guidance recommended due to disturbing scenes and themes
Children aged over 10 OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Dolphin Tale
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes and infrequent coarse language
Length: 113 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

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 previously.

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 up 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 is not doing very well. Her tail is badly damaged and she is refusing to feed. However, when she hears Sawyer’s voice she responds and lets him feed her from a bottle. Winter’s tail has to be amputated and her prognosis is not good but she overcomes her disability and manages to learn to swim.

Some months later it is discovered that Winter’s new way of swimming is damaging her spine, so against all odds Sawyer enlists the help of a prosthetic surgeon who devises a tail just for her. Winter’s determined spirit is an inspiration to all, not least to young Sawyer who gains much self-confidence through the experience.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Overcoming disability; single parent families

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Rufus the pelican is quite aggressive and attacks everyone on first sight.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under five including the following:

  • Boys at school are mean to Sawyer
  • Discussion of single parent families. Like Sawyer, Hazel is also in a one parent family as her mother died when she was seven.
  • A hurricane destroys much of the marine park – Sawyer and his Mum have to find refuge inside their home.
  • Winter is shown tangled up in ropes and with blood on her mouth and tail.
  • Hazel (the daughter of the marine park owner) is very distressed and is seen in tears when she learns that Winter has to have her tail amputated
  • Kyle joins the army and goes off to war. He is injured in an explosion, returns home in a wheelchair and is put into a veteran’s hospital. There are several veterans there with prosthetic arms and/or legs. At the end of the movie there is real life footage showing many disabled children and adults with artificial limbs, who come to visit Winter at the marine park.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group may also be disturbed by some of the above scenes

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Younger children in this age group may also be disturbed by some of the above scenes

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

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

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

None of concern

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern

Use of substances

None of concern

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • “crap”
  • “holy smoke”

In a nutshell

Dolphin Tale is an inspirational family movie based on a true story and suited to most ages, although younger children could be distressed 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 does not seem to greatly enhance the film. The film is full of positive messages and role models.

The main messages from this movie are that:


  • having a disability needn’t prevent you from achieving your dreams
  • family is very important.
  • Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:
  • respect for animals
  • courage
  • loyalty and friendship
  • generosity

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Why the boys at school are mean to Sawyer and won’t let him sit next to them.