The 1996 movie "Flipper" is a Hollywood remake of a popular cult television series and a few mostly forgotten films from the 1960s. My personal experience with the latter is very limited. I've only seen one complete episode from the TV show, part of an older Flipper movie, and clips of others in the saga about a kid named Sandy and his best buddy, an unnaturally intelligent (even for his species) and charming dolphin. But my experiences are enough to tell you that the core elements and spirit of the show are incorporated into this big-screen version. It's another story about a boy and his (insert animal species). And although the movie's adult star Paul Hogan commands the most interesting character, the dolphin is charming enough to recommend the movie.
In this picture, Sandy (Elijah Wood) is Porter Ricks's nephew (not son as in the show) and is reluctantly sent to his uncle's seaside home for a summer after a (what else?) divorce. Sandy is all but willing to accept his three months living by the ocean until a dolphin separated from its clan following a trigger-happy boater's tirade decides to stop by his favorite pier. Sandy, of course, forms a friendship with the dolphin, whom he names Flipper. And in the end, just like with "Free Willy," the plot leads up to a struggle to reunite Flipper with his kin.
This big-screen version of "Flipper" is a little flimsy and it's more whimsical than it is consistent. And just like with Free Willy, Lassie, Old Yeller, and every other cute critter in these kind of stories, Flipper has the ability to read minds, understand English, and run an underwater bank all without any training (Confused? See the movie). But honestly, I think that is part of the appeal that the TV show had for children and that's why I think that appeal will remain for this movie. Even for this adult, these whimsical and rather implausible adventures and tactics were packed with charm and the nostalgia they stirred up was rather enamoring. Yes, a better movie would be made if they tried to make a more realistic boy-and-dolphin story. How woul a *real* dolphin from the wild react to such a situation and how would an ordinary kid not under the control of movie conventions respond? And of course it'd be better if we didn't have a hokey backstory of toxic waste and an evil hammerhead shark named Scar? Wait? Scar? A shark named Scar? Okay now, Scar is a compelling name for an evil lion or even a Comanche war chief, but a hammerhead shark? The shark is not a good villain here. It's mouth is way too small to communicate menace, the moaning sounds it makes (an impossibility for real sharks) is phony, and the special effects used to simulate it are not sufficient.
But who cares? What do we expect in a "Flipper" movie? A cute dolphin, a simple story, and a lot of whimsical under and out-of-water adventures. We get 'em. And there are some more magical moments, such as a very splendid little sequence where Flipper swims through the depths and explores the marvels of underwater life. The underwater nature photography is quite pleasing. And although Flipper does not do anything that we haven't seen him (or Free Willy, for that matter) do before, he is quite a good-looking and charming character on the screen. But ironically, it is Paul Hogan who carries the movie along when Flipper is not on-camera. Because even though the star, Elijah Wood, is as fine an actor for this part as anyone, he doesn't have anything to do that makes him stand out as a character. His change of mood over the course of the picture, dialogue, and attitude all are familiar. So when he starts to lose our interest, it is Paul Hogan who saves the day. He just has an enormous amount of on-screen charm and charisma with all of his costars. Even the movie's most ardent detractors will agree with that.
Bottom line, even though I had a lot of mixed reactions, I did modestly enjoy this "Flipper" movie. It's not, I say, on par with "Free Willy" but as far as movies about a young, troubled kid and his cetacean best friend go, this one does alright. Paul Hogan is the best element in the picture, but the dolphin is charming enough to make it worth recommending. It is best seen with young children, for it will engage them (as it did me when I was younger) and charm parents as well. And adults who grew up with the TV show will be pleased at the same time.