“Dolphin Tale” Shines Spotlight on Homeschooling

To celebrate the DVD release of “Dolphin Tale,” Grace Hill Media, a company that promotes quality entertainment for faith-based audiences, has graciously provided five DVDs to be given away to Catholic Exchange readers. Details are provided at the end of this article.

As a freelance writer who reviews family movies, I often have the opportunity to attend screenings in advance of a movie’s release. Several months ago, I received a press kit for the film “Dolphin Tale.” It included a book about the movie and a stuffed dolphin with a “prosthetic” tail attached with Velcro. I gave them to my 12-year-old daughter, Rebecca, whom I had homeschooled for four years. Delighted, she said, “I read about this in American Girl magazine. They interviewed the girl in the movie. Her name is Cozi Zuehlsdorff, and she’s homeschooled!”

Fortunately, I was able to bring Rebecca to the screening, and we both enjoyed the movie immensely, especially the effervescent Cozi’s performance. She plays Hazel, the daughter of Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.). Dr. Clay cares for the injured dolphin, Winter, at the Clearwater, Florida, marine hospital which he runs. He and his dad (Kris Kristofferson, perfect in the role of a crusty old sailor) homeschool Hazel and live in a houseboat. (Hazel’s mother died when she was very young.)

Since I am a former homeschooler, I am naturally concerned about how homeschooled children are portrayed in the media. Unfortunately, they are often stereotyped as clumsy milquetoasts who never venture from their homes other than the occasional science fair and spelling bee. Fortunately, “Dolphin Tale” breaks the mold with Hazel’s character. She’s cute, vivacious, independent and smart. Her classroom is the marine hospital and the ocean environment in which she works and plays.

Hazel befriends painfully shy Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), who ventures into the marine hospital to visit Winter. The young boy had helped to rescue the dolphin and was concerned about her recovery. Hazel convinces her dad to let Sawyer stay and help with Winter as she astutely observes that the otherwise depressed dolphin whistles happily when she hears Sawyer’s voice.

Sawyer, who is skipping summer school to work with Winter, slowly comes out of his shell under Hazel’s influence. She teaches him the ropes of working in a marine hospital and keeps up a constant cheerful banter. At one point, she declares, “I’m homeschooled. That’s why I’m such a chatterbox.”

When Sawyer’s mother, Lorraine (Ashley Judd), discovers her son has been missing school, she insists that he return to the classroom. He begs her to visit the marine hospital to see what he’s doing, and Lorraine sees the value in Sawyer’s non-traditional educational environment. For the first time, her son is actually excited about learning and even offers to write an essay about the experience. In a memorable scene which will have homeschoolers cheering, Lorraine pleads with Sawyer’s teacher to allow her son to receive credit for his work with Winter and the other marine animals.

The positive homeschool message portrayed in “Dolphin Tale” is not a glaring one but is seamlessly woven into the plot as if it were a perfectly normal way of life. Of course, we homeschoolers already know that.

“Dolphin Tale” is released on DVD and Blue-ray on Tuesday, December 20. The film is rated PG for mild thematic elements and can be seen in 3-D or traditional format.

*Catholic Exchange readers have an opportunity to win one of 5 free copies of the “Dolphin Tale” DVD. Simply leave a comment on this article, and you will be entered in the contest. Remember, you must first log in or register as a new user in order to leave a comment. Deadline for entering is Tuesday, December 20 at midnight Pacific Standard Time. Winners will be notified through their registered email addresses, and the names be posted in the comment section below on Thursday, December 22. Be sure to check back in case the email didn’t get through your spam filter. If winners do not respond with a mailing address by December 26, then a new winner will be selected.

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  • orachel

    What an awesome article. I think this movie would be a good quality film to show my children.

  • magsjax

    Thanks for this great article, Peggy! We missed the movie in theaters but hope to own the DVD soon! hint hint.
    We are homeschoolers, too and our kids are excited about this movie.

  • marecarman

    “The Rosary Workout” sounds like an answer to my prayers! Now adding this book to my wish list along side Dolphin Tales! GOD reward you, Peggy!

  • srrakibr

    Very well written.

  • ethuber

    As a father of nine home-schooled children, I am very glad to see any effort to bring to light the benefits of such an endeavor as homeschooling especially in the secular arena! All too often we find ourselves trying to explain to others not only these benefits but the fact that we are all called to and have the primary responsibility for educating our children spiritually as well as academically. We have not had the opportunity to see this movie but based on your article will try to make the effort. Thanks Peggy. As an ’84 grad with very similar beginnings, I appreciate your history and may buy your Rosary Workout book for my wife!

  • yakinmol

    Beautiful story. I was impressed that the producers took the time to cast a homeschooler in the lead role. Looking forward to seeing the movie.

  • chrismmama

    We haven’t yet seen the movie, so thank you for this positive review. I always find it amusing when people ask, “What will you do when your children ask to go to school?” The same thing parents of brick-schooled children would do when THEIR children ask to be home-schooled — we’ll talk about it, and make the best decision for our family at that time! Maybe we will get this question less frequently with more positive stories like “Dolphin Tale.”

  • As current homeschoolers we’re very interested to see this movie and this young actress. We have been impressed over the years with some of the more publicly visible products of homeschooling. One recent film that was done completely by homeschoolers stands out to us. It’s called “Come What May” and we really enjoyed it. I think as the trend to homeschool continues to rise we’ll probably see more and more of these products of homeschooling in the public spotlight.

  • smhernandez8

    My kids loved this book, and we are really looking forward to seeing the movie. Although we do not homeschool, many friends do, and I am glad to hear about the positive portrayal of homeschooling.

  • rborelli

    I’m always excited to hear about a new “good” family movie, but this is one I’m especially looking forward to. My sister has homeschooled all of her children and now my son and daughter-in-law are homeschooling their children. It’ll be so nice to see the portrayal of this little girl as well-adjusted!

  • purplekafmom

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention! My daughter loves dolphins and the fact that this a good movie for the whole family makes it even better!

  • lllechemommy6

    A neighbor took one of my children to see it when it came out. I can not wait to see it. Being a homeschool mom with 6 children and a military wife I do not go to movies….My 5 yo is begging to see it!

  • lrayes

    As a homeschooling mother of seven, I can’t wait to see this movie. Thank you for posting this article.

  • laurel

    oh, i’m so glad to hear that! my homeschooled daughters and i would probably love this movie…

  • dave03

    As a father of 4 boys who are homeschooled I very much look forward to watching this film with them. Thanks so much for the review as I was unaware of the homeschool element present although I did hear that it was a decent family movie. Hopefully we’ll have more films in the future where homeschoolers are portrayed as simply part of the fabric of society and not some oddball fringe group.

  • mommad

    I look forward to the possibility of sharing this with our 7 homeschooled kids!

  • aljchj

    What a pleasant surprise! As the mother of two homeschoolers who are now homeschooling their own children, it is so good to see homeschooling portrayed positively.

  • amdgbvmh

    Why couldn’t the home school angle be more “glaring”? The culture sure seems to have no problem with glaring it’s “ways” on our families!

    Still, my 7 homeschoolers would love to see this movie. We’ll give it to the library when we are done watching it.

    Thanks for the article.

  • servant

    Just watched the trailer; looks very good. Glad to see such a high-quality cast in place!

  • David Loftus

    Had no idea the homeschooling was part of this movie. As a homeschooling dad now I have to watch it! Thanks Peggy for info.

  • Patrick OHannigan

    Thank you for an enjoyable and informative review. Do you remember if the girl in “Fly Away Home” was homeschooled? I’m thinking yes.

  • magdalen331

    I took my eight year-old daughter to see “Dolphin Tale” in the theater. She now lists it as her favorite movie of all time. We’ve been home schooling for one year, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made for my family. Definitely see this film with your children – it’s wonderful and heart-warming, which is difficult to find in a Hollywood movie nowadays. (Thank you for the free DVD contest, too – I’d never heard of Catholic Exchange before this morning. Signing up is a lovely Christmas present to myself.)

  • momazon

    Reminds me of another great homeschooling-backdrop movie, “Soul Surfer”, which pushed my eldest to declare she would one day be a marine biologist! Enjoyed your review, and we’re looking forward to seeing the movie.

  • mvmariska

    Thank you so much for this insightful review. I homeschool my four children and we are always looking for positive movies to watch on family movie night! What a bonus to get the positive homeschooling message, too! God Bless.

  • plhartless

    We’re just starting the homeschool journey and look forward to this film as a corrective to the stereotypes our friends and family have internalized. Plus, it sounds like a great film!

  • mtthw44

    I have heard wonderful things about this movie, but I never knew there was positive homeschool portrayal in it. Thanks for bringing this to our attention – just another reason to make a point to see it!

  • klly

    Thank you for your review of this film. We have home educated our children for the past 14 years. It was wonderful to see children doing what they really enjoyed, as well as learning in real life scenarios. A very positive message to society.

  • macaroon

    It’s always refreshing to find good movies to attend with my youngest daughter. Thanks for the insightful review and I am sure we will be purchasing the DVD when it comes out! Merry Christmas.

  • Merry Christmas! Please forgive me for posting the contest winners so late! We moved into a new house this week, so my life was especially crazy. The winners are listed below and should be receiving their notification email shortly. If you don’t see it, check your spam folder or send your mailing address to me at peggybowes@gmail.com Thank you for participating and look for more contests in the future!

    Congratulations to the winners: