Movie Review: Family-friendly “Dolphin Island” invites us all to the Bahamas

Any movie with “dolphin” in the title is pretty much pre-certified “kid-friendly,” and “Dolphin Island” certainly honors that.

It’s a lightly-charming Bahamas travelogue with a teen, her dolphin friend and her fisherman grandpa who just might lose custody of her to her “other” grandparents — rich American cityfolk.

The plot could have been cooked up over a conch fritters and beer lunch, the drama is that predictable. And the acting’s uneven. But the adorable trained dolphin, the “island time” pacing and often flattering depiction of Bahamian life make it family viewing of the “Can we take a vacation THERE?” variety.

Annabelle (Tyler Jade Nixon) is a 15 year-old who loves on her grandpa’s aged fishing boat and whose day starts checking the stone crab traps and poking around for conch, and playing around with Mitzi, her dolphin DFF.

School comes after that, after her colorfully-named granddad, Jonah Coleridge, has used any excuse to bluster about keeping their “bourgeois” creditors at bay or break into song. He’s played by British stage actor Peter Woodward, who is the film’s great delight. His plummy locutions lend a literary, salted air to the picture and he generally classes up the joint.

Mitzi? She chatters and squeaks and leaps and picks up trash with her snout whenever she leaves the family aquatic center where they all live. It’s supposedly a non-profit “research” lagoon, but looks more like your typical dolphin training, “swim with the dolphins” private enterprise operation, wholly downplayed in the movie.

Their “beach bums on a permanent holiday” idyll is interrupted by the social worker (Dionne Lea) who coins that phrase to describe Jonah, who reminds her a little too much of her ex-husband to be “a good parent.”

A lawyer (Bob Bledsoe) everyone confuses for a “pirate” on first meeting — “Hey, I OWN a SUIT!” — is another interrupting. Barrister Carbunkle (ahem) has been retained by the “other” grandparents to get custody of the kid. He’s well-versed in the way things work in “de islands.”

“Money goes a long way here. And if you will just let me take a pile of it” and spread it around (bribes), this will all happen in a (slow walked) flash.

All this happens just as Annabelle is discovering peer parties and a cute boy (Aaron Burrows) who picks up cash by picking pockets, offering them back to the “You just dropped this” tourists, and is invariably offered a “reward” for being so thoughtful.

The movie’s limited locations and incidents and amateurish bit players betray its modest budget. Its cut-and-paste script, lack of focus on where the audience’s interests lie (in the kids, the water and the dolphin) betray limited ambition, and maybe sticking with the actors they know will deliver.

It could be a Bahamian Tourism Board production if it weren’t for the casual corruption, lax legal, child and animal welfare standards on display.

But it’s diverse by design, sunny and as I say the dolphin is as adorable as dolphins unfailingly are. If you’re looking for something beyond Disney+ or the hormones and conspicuous consumption of virtually every series and streaming movie made for this audience, it’s worth a watch.

MPA Rating: TV-Y7

Cast: Peter Woodward, Tyler Jade Nixon, Dionne Lee, Aaron Burrows and Bob Bledsoe

Credits: Directed by Mike Disa, script by Shaked Berenson, Mike Disa and Rolfe Kanefsky. An Entertainment Squad release on Amazon.

Running time: 1:31

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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