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Hope Splashes to Life in Dolphin Tale 2

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

CLEARWATER, FL - When the heart-warming family adventure, Dolphin Tale, hit theaters in the Fall of 2011, industry insiders were pleasantly surprised that this movie based on a true story earned more than $72 million at the box office.  What they didn’t expect was the remarkable groundswell of support provided by people with disabilities.

Children and adults from around the globe flocked to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) in Florida to visit the inspiring Winter, a wounded dolphin that was miraculously rescued and rehabilitated with the aid of an innovative prosthetic tail.  This dolphin with a gentle and determined spirit became a symbol of perseverance to people all over the world.

“If you spend any time around Winter, when you get around this animal, your perspective changes.  You see things in a different way.  There is an acceptance there,” explains Harry Connick, Jr., who reprises his role as marine biologist Clay Haskett in Dolphin Tale 2, opening in theaters this Friday.  “All of us know what it is like to wake up with the intent of having a great day and you just get smacked down with some awful news.  And when you watch Winter you think, ‘How can I accept that?’  It’s nothing less than inspirational.”

For all the goodwill that the original movie generated, as with virtually all true stories, sequels rarely get made.  Dolphin Tale is an exception.  On the very night the cast and crew had gathered to celebrate the original movie’s completion at a nearby restaurant, the CMA received a call that a baby dolphin was in trouble and might not survive the night.  With dozens of Hollywood-types looking on in wide-eyed wonder, aquarium staff expertly hand-carried the ailing aquatic mammal to a nearby pool. Never did anyone expect that this dramatic event would serve as the genesis of a sequel.

“You know, the thing about that night is that it was so dramatic,” says Charles Martin Smith, the writer and director of both Dolphin Tale movies. “The truck that you see is the very truck that this baby dolphin was brought to the marine center in.  I looked at all the documentary footage and actually re-created exactly how they did it including even picking her up in their arms and running.  I did all of that and had all the same people doing it.  We actually shot that scene three years to the day after she was rescued and brought in.”

The baby dolphin did survive the night and was appropriately named Hope.  Eventually, Hope became a companion to Winter, providing the prosthetic-tailed dolphin a new lease on life.  As gentle and compassionate a creature as Winter is, Hope is her polar opposite.  Energetic and zany at times, the younger dolphin charges through each day with unbridled zeal.  Together, they make life in a pool tank very interesting.

If there is an overarching theme in Dolphin Tale 2 it is the fleeting, sometimes mysterious concept of hope.  While it is a feeling that is so easy to lose at times, this desire and expectation for better things to happen in our lives is a common theme.

“You have a choice about how you feel about different things,” says Austin Highsmith, who plays Winter’s primary dolphin trainer in both movies.  “In dealing with life or death you can become really depressed or say to yourself that it is a part of life, this is natural.  I think that this film really brings about these more adult issues that kids are going to confront one day.

“There is opportunity that comes out of almost every tragedy,” Connick Jr, reflects. “It’s just funny how no matter what, little flowers start sprouting up after the snow melts.  It just happens every time.  You just have to just sort of know where to look for it because everybody has undergone severe tragedy at some point in their life.  And somehow we are all still sitting here.”

Unlike the original movie, several characters are struggling in their lives to find purpose in Dolphin Tale 2.  Chief among them is Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), the young boy who found Winter on the beach in the first movie, who has grown into a highly responsible teenager with a very difficult decision to make.

“My character has no idea what the right thing to do is in his life,” Gamble explains.  “Winter is struggling yet Sawyer has been offered a wonderful educational opportunity in another part of the country.  But he doesn’t want to leave her.”

“I don’t like it when people say forget your past, just move on,” adds Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who plays Hazel in both movies.  “The past shapes who we are – the good things and the bad.  We have to move forward but we must allow the past to influence us as well.”

Perhaps the most inspiring part of Dolphin Tale 2 does not even take place on the big screen.  While Gamble and Zuehlsdorff play central roles in Winter and Hope’s onscreen recoveries, they are also young Christians in Hollywood striving to make the right choices based on their faith.

“A lot of Hollywood is about compromising what you believe in,” Gamble says.  “Now that I’m a little older, it is getting really hard to find wholesome, good movies out there.  This movie has really been a blessing, especially since we got to do it twice.”

“These movies (Dolphin Tale, Dolphin Tale 2) have been such a blessing,” offers Zuehlsdorff, who also has a recurring role on the Disney Channel show Mighty Med.  “It’s just really important to know if there is a really racy project you just never take that first step and even audition.  You just don’t want to get yourself sucked in.  You just need to stay true to who you are and trust that this is what the Lord has for you.  He will bring you the right projects that you can feel good about 20 years later.”

Dolphin Tale 2, which also stars Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and a special appearance by Bethany Hamilton, opens in theaters nationwide on September 12, 2014.

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