Animals can create an impact in one’s life on a day-to-day basis. Whether you have a pet you consider family or one you frequently interact with as part of your job, animals do have souls, can inspire, love and help one cope with difficult situations. ‘Dolphin Tale’ tells the real life story of a special dolphin named Winter, who has touched the lives of all those around her.
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Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) is an 11-year-old boy who feels disenchanted with the world after his father left years ago. He even cuts himself off from his mother, Lorraine (Ashley Judd) and rarely confides in his closest relative, his cousin, Kyle (Austin Stowell). When Kyle, who is also an all-star swimmer, is shipped off to serve overseas, Sawyer feels more alone then ever. Sawyer comes across a beached dolphin, whose tail has been severely injured by a crab pot and appears to be in bad shape overall. The Clearwater Marine Hospital team shows up and takes the dolphin, later named Winter, under their wing and care for her. After days of analysis, Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.), a local marine biologist decides that in order for Winter to even have a chance of survival, her tail needs to be amputated. How is a dolphin to live if they don’t have a tail to swim? That’s the ultimate question the film rides on and the audience is taken through the journey of Winter’s hardships and triumphs.
I had the privilege of talking with Toby Nunn, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class, who spent a total of seven and a half years overseas and who also met the real life Winter in Clearwater, Florida. I asked Nunn what his initial reaction was when asked to meet Winter. He said, “When I was asked to come out to Florida to check it out, the idea of having an Iraqi veteran going to meet a dolphin was foreign to me. It was the most ridiculous request, but I was intrigued. It ended up being the best experience I’ve had in a long time.”
Nunn took a liking to Winter immediately and began to see what sparked people to travel far to visit the Clearwater Marine Center. There is a touching scene in the movie where Kyle comes back from overseas, injured with a leg brace, and he bends down on the platform to meet Winter. Nunn said it was the same platform and place where he met Winter for the first time and the scene was reminiscent to his experience. “It may sound cheesy, but I could be in a crowd with 50 people and they wouldn’t get where and what I’ve been through, but Winter got it. It’s a strange fellowship, the dolphin understands and realizes what she accomplished.”
I asked Nunn if he felt the story on film was true to Winter’s actual story. He said, “They absolutely nailed it. It’s actually going to make an impact in a very positive manner. To see the happiness Winter brings to the handicapped children is amazing and to see Winter play herself in the movie was phenomenal.”
Nunn was extremely impressed with the cast especially with Harry Connick, Jr. and Austin Stowell. “The ambience Harry Connick, Jr. brought to the set and the way he connected with the two young actors was remarkable. He set the tone for the film. The way Austin Stowell carried his role, as a war veteran was impressive. The military is a very proud community and it’s brutally honest. It takes a lot of courage to play someone in that capacity. Stowell was serious with the role and I hope people realize that the military community supports him.”
Nunn is Executive Director of Soldiers’ Angels, a national non-profit whose primary mission is to provide help and comfort to the service member and the family. Soldiers’ Angels teamed with some of the cast and crew of ‘Dolphin Tale’ and held a private screening for veterans and their families in San Antonio, TX, where the largest wounded warrior facility Brooke Army Medical Center is located. Nunn said, “We know it happens with every man and woman in America who go out to serve and they come back different. Winter’s story will help veterans and families cope with the transition.”
An endearing and empowering story, ‘Dolphin Tale’ will not only pull at heartstrings, it presents a wonderful message: One can overcome anything.