2011’s Dolphin Tale told the story of Winter, a dolphin whose tail is torn off by a crab trap and the little boy who works with the people at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida to develop a prosthetic tail for her. It was a surprise success at the box office and inspired thousands of people to come to CMA to meet Winter.
This success had a big impact on the film’s two young stars, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who have returned for Dolphin Tale 2 to continue Winter’s inspiring story.
“I think Winter inspires people not to give up hope,” says Gamble, who plays Sawyer. “Everyone at some point in their life goes through a rough patch, and you think there’s no hope, but if you believe you’re gonna get through it and it’s gonna make you a better person? that message helped me, as it does for thousands of people.”
His co-star Zuehlsdorff agrees, “And through her we’ve met so many beautiful children, and beautiful people: Army veterans, wounded warriors, just incredible people going through all kinds of life challenges. That’s something that everyone on this Earth has in common, we’ve all had something hard happen to us. It’s just incredible to watch these children. I’ve never met a kid who swims by Winter with a bad attitude. They’re all going through something harder than I’ve ever dealt with, and they all have a better attitude than I could ever hope to have. (laughs)”
Adds Gamble, “I really need to thank Winter for giving me the opportunity to meet all these amputees, wounded veterans, people with physical handicaps, it really has opened my eyes because before ‘Dolphin Tale’ I would see them with their wheelchairs and think of them differently, but I got to meet them and they’re just like us but a little braver.”
“Something we always try to tell kids is whenever you see someone like you who has a harder life challenge just know the only difference is that they’re braver,” says Zuehlsdorff.
Playing the father of Zuehlsdorff’s character Hazel is singer/actor Harry Connick, Jr. as Dr. Clay Haskett, the head of CMA. Like the kids, Connick found the experience of working with Winter a real game changer.
“My trainer always tells me, when I complain that I don’t wanna do another set, ‘No mind. Just be quiet and do it, you’re gonna get through it, you’re not gonna die, don’t think about it, just do it,” says Connick. “There’s something about Winter? she’s not a human being, obviously, so she doesn’t think about things the way we do, but it is what it is. This is what life gave her, and there’s something inspirational about watching a creature who has no mind the way we know it. These are the cards that were dealt to her, and what else are you gonna do? Life is really like that. As we all know there are certain things that are wonderful about life and certain things that are not wonderful, and what are you going to do about it? You have to accept things with grace and with dignity and move through them, and that’s something that you’re reminded of when you see Winter. I call it ‘DWI’: Deal With It. (laughs)”
Connick also remembers the night of the first movie’s wrap party when CMA rescued a baby dolphin named Hope, who eventually became Winter’s companion.
“That was crazy,” he says, “because we had been through this incredible emotional journey with the entire filmmaking experience with the animals, and we’re at the wrap party and things are bustling and coming in with cell phone pictures of Hope, who had been rescued. It was another nod between that weird line between what really happened and making movies, because as we’re celebrating the wrap of the film these guys are still doing what they have to do, 24/7. Twenty minutes ago I was at CMA and they’re not messing around. This is a religion to these people and its just constantly going on. That’s something that I hope continues to go out to people who see the movie. It was crazy, the fact that they did it. When I saw the script a couple years later I said, ‘Man, I don’t know about this, what are you gonna do? How could you possibly tell the story in a different way,’ and then I read it and thoughT, WOW, that was really cool. That was an exciting night.”
The kids, however, both missed out on this experience.
“Nope, we went to bed,” sighs Gamble. “I thought all the camera people were filming Hope, I thought, ‘They’re just filming another scene, I’m gonna go to bed.’ Worst mistake of my life!”
“I can’t believe we missed Hope’s rescue, but we did get to see her rehabilitation and it’s a real honor,” says Zuehlsdorff. “The great work that they do there is something that needs to be out in the media more. They rescue animals, they rehab them, and then they release them. It’s so amazing to watch their work flourish and to bring people’s attention to that through our celebrity.”
Dolphin Tale 2 opens everywhere Friday.