Dolphin Tale vs. Soul Surfer

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it odd that there were two films last year about amputees in aquatic settings? Both based on true stories, and both aimed at a PG/family film audience. Neither one manages to climb above sentimentality, but both did well at the BO and are still selling to the masses in the home market. There must be something about losing a limb in the water, so maybe it’s worth thinking about for a minute.

DOLPHIN TALE is a nicely structured script that weaves together the story of a boy who heals his father-loss wounds through the act of helping to heal a maimed dolphin with the secondary tale of his cousin, a champion swimmer who comes back from the war without the use of his legs. In this story, a prosthetic is ultimately designed by Morgan Freeman’s character that allows the dolphin to swim again.  I loved the casting and the gentle interplay of storylines in this movie. I laughed and cried and enjoyed the ride even though I was never really surprised.

SOUL SURFER tells the story of a teenage girl on the pro surfing circuit who loses her arm to a shark and decides that she will keep on surfing and competing anyway. She is offered a prosthetic, but decides against it, choosing instead to re-learn how to surf with only one arm. Through sheer determination and many lopsided push-ups, plus a bit of retooling of her board by dad, played by Dennis Quaid, she barrels her way to the top again.

Both of these scripts, especially Soul Surfer, tend to “water down” the subject matter and neither one presents the concept of loss in all of its true complexity. But there is still something they can teach us. And it’s more than just the healing powers of love, although both films do a nice job of getting that message across, too.

Prosthetic or no prosthetic, the situation writers can take away from these stories remains the same: crafting a great script means making our hero lose the very thing they need in order to get what they want. For true story screenwriters, this is a wake-up call. If you concentrate on true loss in your true story, taking away whatever it is they want and sometimes everything they need as well, your audience will be captivated.

For more insights into the adaptions of these true stories, click on the links for each film above.

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