The movie “Dolphin Tale” stars a boy (Nathan Gamble) who is homeschooled in real life, and a girl (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) who is homeschooled in the movie and real life. Homeschoolers will be pleased to know that “Dolphin Tale” has a positive homeschool message that is seamlessly woven into the plot. Based on a true story, though embellished with fictional human drama, “Dolphin Tale” is a heartwarming family film about Winter, a young bottlenose dolphin who loses her tail after getting caught in a crab trap off the Florida coast.
Unlike many subjects of cinematic portraits, Winter plays herself in the movie. Only a few dangerous scenes feature an animatronic dolphin and computer-generated effects. Winter serves as a symbol of perseverance and hope to millions of people who have been touched by her remarkable story of recovery and rehabilitation. The very end of the movie adds a nice touch with real video clips showing Winter interacting with handicapped war veterans on crutches, amputees in wheelchairs, and small children without arms or legs.
Besides Winter, the plot of “Dolphin Tale” centers on two fictional children: Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), a marine biologist’s outgoing daughter, and Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), an introverted boy who befriends the rescued dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium rehabilitation center. Concerned about the dolphin’s recovery, Sawyer rallies friends and family to convince a pioneering doctor to create a unique prosthetic attachment to restore her ability to swim.
Well-known actors play the film’s adults – Harry Connick Jr. as Hazel’s father, Kris Kristofferson as her grandfather, Ashley Judd as Sawyer’s mom, and Morgan Freeman as the eccentric doctor who invents the prosthesis. However, director Charles Martin Smith focused on the young characters: “I wanted the story to have a slightly elevated sense of reality, as if it were all being seen through the eyes of a child.” Smith auditioned nearly one hundred youngsters for each role, quickly zooming in on Gamble and Zuehlsdorff. “They both come from good Christian families, which underpins everything in the movie,” he explained.
The character named Hazel lives with her dad (Dr. Clay Haskett, a marine biologist) and her grandfather (a crusty old sailor) on a houseboat where she is homeschooled. Hazel befriends a shy boy named Sawyer Nelson, who has been skipping school in order to visit the dolphin. When Sawyer’s mom finds out that her son has been missing school, he begs her to visit the marine hospital to see what he’s been doing. For the first time, he is actually excited about learning and even offers to write an essay about his experience. Realizing the value in her son’s non-traditional educational environment, his mom pleads with Sawyer’s teacher to allow him to receive credit for his marine work.
It’s interesting to note the parallels between “Dolphin Tale” and another uplifting family film, “Nim’s Island.” Like “Nim’s Island,” the movie “Dolphin Tale” shows homeschooling in a positive light. The characters of Nim and Hazel are both cute, vivacious, independent, and smart. Each of the young female characters lives in an ocean environment and has a marine biologist dad. Both characters’ mothers died when they were young. Last but not least, the two lead characters are both played by homeschooled actresses! (“Nim’s Island” stars Abigail Breslin, homeschooled through Calvert School.)
Cozi (a nickname for “Cozette”) Zuehlsdorff, 13, made her screen debut in the movie “Dolphin Tale”, which opened in theaters nationwide on September 23, 2011. Like her character in the film (Clay’s daughter Hazel Haskett), Cozi is homeschooled in real life. In a Crosswalk.com interview, Cozi said, “Well, it sure gives me a lot of free time … I don’t have as strict of a school schedule, so I can audition for things in L.A. And it’s helped me get closer to God and closer to my mom, who’s my best friend. I love homeschooling.”
Cozi lives in Orange County, California with her parents, her older sister, and their puppy Bandit. Her mom runs a summer camp for kids. Cozi began her acting career at age eight when she was encouraged to audition for “Annie” at a local theater company. At the time, Cozi thought it would be more fun to go see the musical than to act in it, but she decided to audition anyway. Thanks to her effervescent personality and singing ability, she was cast as Annie and went on to perform in numerous lead roles – in shows such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Peter Pan,” “Willy Wonka,” and “Seussical the Musical.”
Following her success in musical theater, Cozi turned her attention to TV and film. She can be seen in commercials for Blue Cross/ Blue Shield of Illinois, Regions Bank, Amica Insurance, Hallmark, and Nestle Water. Then Cozi went straight from doing commercials to landing her first movie role, as Hazel in “Dolphin Tale.” Describing her life on the set, Cozi said, “We did all our shooting at the aquarium, and when we weren’t shooting, I’d literally walk through a door and attend school. I had to go to class for 3 ½ hours a day, and I worked nine hours a day.”
Cozi has a passion for vintage dresses, knitting, writing, singing, dancing, playing the piano, making homemade movies with her friends, and going to church. Yes, Cozi is a wonderful actress and more importantly a godly young lady! In a Tweet dated August 17, Cozi wrote, “Woke up this morning and remembered that God’s mercies are new every morning, and that this is the day the Lord has made!” And in an interview when she was asked “…your guiding star is in life, what is it?” Cozi answered unequivocally, “Jesus Christ, for sure.”
Nathan Gamble was born in Tacoma, Washington on January 12, 1998. His parents are theater directors who run a drama camp for kids, which he joined at age five. Nathan made his feature film debut at age eight as the son of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett’s characters in the movie “Babel,” earning a Young Artist Award nomination for his performance. He then went on to appear as Commissioner Gordon’s son in “The Dark Knight.” Along with other film credits, he was a regular on the TV series “Hank,” and has made guest appearances on shows including “Private Practice” and “House MD.” Speaking highly of his less experienced co-star, Nathan said, “Cozi’s a blast to work with. You could never tell this was her first movie.”
When he’s not acting, Nathan is just a normal kid living at home with his parents, two sisters (one older and one younger), and several pets (cat, rabbits, and dogs). He loves traveling, seeing other parts of the country, and meeting different people. He enjoys playing baseball, soccer and basketball. He also likes comic books, LEGOs, and playing Wii Sports with his dad. Nathan says, “I have three role models – my dad, Jesus, and Indiana Jones. My dad’s absolutely fantastic, a really kind person, the kind of person I want to be when I grow up.” He adds, “I try to be – well, not holy – but my whole family is very religious and I want to be like that too. So I try my hardest to be more in touch with the Lord.” Quite a bold, refreshing statement coming from a Hollywood actor!
Like Cozi, Nathan is homeschooled in order to have an acting career, which he loves. Nathan and Cozi were able to be tutored together while on the movie set. Actor Harry Connick Jr., who is supportive of homeschooling and homeschooled his oldest daughter, discussed the benefits of homeschooling for his young co-workers. “I think it’s the perfect opportunity for Cozi and Nathan… I sit in their class a lot; in fact, sometimes we have music class, and it counts towards their credit. If you can find a great instructor, I think it’s the best thing in the world.” Connick and the other adult actors on the set all noticed that the two youngsters speak with a maturity that belies their years.
If you haven’t seen “Dolphin Tale” yet, be sure to watch it at a theatre near you. It’s showing in both 2D and 3D. You may also want to check out the movie trailers, games, and the Winter webcam at http://dolphintalemovie.warnerbros.com/index.html .
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