Dolphin Tale 2: The Movie That Was Meant To Be

Those involved in the making of 2011’s Dolphin Tale knew they were involved in a special project, even though they did not anticipate how well it would be received. Because the movie was based on a true story, they also never imagined that they would be involved in a sequel.

The original movie breathed new life into Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the facility that is home to the movie’s star, Winter, and where much of the first movie was filmed. Annual attendance leaped from 78,000 guests per year to 750,000. The number of volunteers jumped from 150 to 1,000, and paid employees increased from 35 to 210. Because of this growth, the aquarium was able to expand its facilities and serve more marine life, not to mention the massive tourism impact which benefited the whole community. The aquarium also became a common place for Make-A-Wish families and disabled children and veterans from all over who came to visit Winter, and the prosthetics used on Winter actually improved applications for humans.

With all this goodness to come out of one movie, it would have been nice to make a sequel and do it all over again. However, most people associated with the project thought that would be highly unlikely. How can one make a sequel to a true story? No one could think of an example where this had ever been done.

Then the incredible happened. When the cast finished filming the first movie, they gathered for a wrap party at a nearby restaurant. While the cast and crew were enjoying the party, the CMA employees flew into action. They were being called to assist in the rescue of a stranded baby dolphin who was trying to nurse off her dead mother, a dolphin so young her survival was very questionable. Many members of the cast and crew were on hand to witness the rescue personally when the baby arrived at CMA. Even as he watched the CMA crew in action, Austin Stowell (Kyle Connellan) joked about a sequel.

And that’s exactly what happened. The baby became known as Hope, and she provided David Yates, CEO and Director of CMA and executive producer of Dolphin Tale 2, with another inspiring true story that would serve as the sequel to Winter’s journey. “God just gave me a sequel,” he thought that night.

The similarities between Hope’s and Winter’s rescues were amazing. Both are female Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, both were about the same age when they arrived at CMA, and they were found in the same part of Florida by the same rescue team.

As if it was meant to be, all of the key actors were available and ready to return for the sequel. A majority of the crew returned as well. Of those who did not, most were committed to other projects and disappointed they were going to miss the reunion. Good things happened even before the movie wrapped. The production experienced no rain days which helped them wrap on time. The crew took on a project, as they had with the first movie, to raise money for a local mission that helped the hungry and homeless. They set a goal of $5,000 and raised $7,500.

“It’s kind of the highlight of my life,” Austin Highsmith (Phoebe) said while filming the sequel. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that happened twice for us. I don’t’ know of anything that touches people like this little dolphin.” Stowell mentioned that kids are confident about approaching him in public. “They get Winter’s message so loud and clear. Plus people have this universal affection for dolphins. They don’t make this kind of movie anymore.”

Yates said, “I’ve seen God’s providence every step along the way. My job is to not screw up what God is doing.” He says, as he has applied this philosophy, hurdles have been knocked over one at a time. He was excited to be working on a second film to continue spreading Winter’s message of courage. “Every kid has a life challenge. You don’t need to tell them Winter’s story. They look at her, and they get it. The essence is don’t give up,” he explained.

Although it was not quite as dramatic as it is portrayed in the movie, Winter and Hope did go through an adjustment period. “Winter had not seen a young dolphin, so it was hilarious to watch,” Yates said. He characterizes Winter as the teen and Hope as the little kid in their interactions with each other. Sometimes Winter gets annoyed by the “kid sister” always trying to get her attention.

Another new addition to the cast is Bethany Hamilton, the renowned surfer who, as a teen, survived a shark attack but lost her arm. “She’s Winter’s story in human form,” Yates said. Hamilton filmed on the tenth anniversary of her attack. The movie appealed to Hamilton because she likes family-oriented films that are “more pure and positive.” She also felt the movie was a good way to educate kids on the ocean. Hamilton considers it “a blessing to share Christ with the youth of today. I can share a little bit of me with them too. The platform God has given me at times has been overwhelming, but love God with all your heart, soul and mind. When you’re doing that, everything else just falls into place.”

Although he did not think it was possible to have a sequel that would be a stand-alone film, Harry Connick, Jr. (Dr. Clay Haskett) was happy to be proven wrong. “This is just a beautiful, simple, inspirational story.” The entire cast seemed to appreciate the blessing of being able to work together again on such a worthwhile project.

As Kris Kristofferson put it, “It’s hard not to smile when you’re around a dolphin.”

Article By Kim Frauli

Kim Frauli is a wife and stay-at-home mom of three beautiful children. She spent several years in marketing and communications for non-profit organizations, including serving as editor-in-chief of a Catholic hospital’s health magazine. She took a break from full-time work in 2009 to focus on family and volunteer work, but she continued to work on freelance projects. She has served as a Sunday School superintendent and teacher, PTO president, St. Paul Booster Club officer, Girl Scout troop co-leader, youth sports coach and Woman’s Club president, in addition to chairing various events for church and schools. Kim and her family live on a rural Midwestern farm with plenty of animals, including horses and cows. In addition to writing, Kim’s other interests include reading, cooking, going to the movies, and cheering on her children at their various activities.