Could it be? Could it really be that people are starting to realise that number one movies are not the exclusive domain of wizards, vampires, robots and Adam Sandler?
Admittedly, this family adventure does star a beaky-faced creature who communicates through big wet looks, wild body movements and piercing squeaks. But having followed Southern-fried drama The Help to the top of the US box office, it’s encouraging to know that audiences haven’t lost touch with the real world.
In fact, Dolphin Tale is uplifting on several levels, thanks largely to a universally appealing cast led by Nathan Gamble as Sawyer, a shy schoolkid who comes out of his shell after freeing a beached dolphin from a crab trap near his Florida home.
Named Winter, the stricken beast finds all the TLC she needs at the local marine hospital run by Dr Clay Haskett (Connick Jr).
As does Sawyer, who, much to the relief of his mum (Judd), finally finds a friend of his own age in Clay’s daughter Hazel (newcomer Cozi Zuehlsdorff) and a passion he has never shown in school.
Sadly, Winter’s tail has to go. And though she can swim shark-style, the side-to-side motion is slowly crippling her. Worrying times.
Then – dramatic licence alert! – an equally traumatic episode involving Sawyer’s soldier cousin brings prosthetics specialist Dr McCarthy (Freeman) into the picture. Who better to fix Winter with a new rudder?
Actually, Freeman’s character is an amalgamation of two scientists whose pioneering work not only saved Winter but has helped thousands of amputees and similarly incapacitated people around the world.
It’s life-affirming knowledge like this that makes any corniness acceptable.
That, and the fact that no good animal rehab story is complete without a heroic little institution being threatened with closure, the creation of an ersatz family, and the odd repetitive distraction thrown in to amuse very young viewers (in this case a pesky pelican).
Untouchables actor turned director Charles Martin Smith ticks all these boxes while making sure there are enough CGI aquabatics and other 3D-justifying scenes to keep the studio happy.
Yet with Freeman joined by Kristofferson (as grandaddy Haskett) and Frances Sternhagen (as the hospital chairwoman) amidst the cast of America’s Most Avuncular, this is an old-fashioned cockle-warmer that connects through flesh and blood, not pixels.
Which, in bringing a tear to your eye and a cheer to your throat, makes it perfectly fit for porpoise.