“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.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage