Mopping away the happy tears from my cheeks after Dolphin Tale, a true-life animal inspirational from the producers of The Blind Side, I locked eyes with an esteemed colleague who required an industrial-strength sponge to soak up his tears.

Tale is the story of a bionic Flipper who hurts her tail in a crab trap, gets a prosthetic replacement, and gives hope to others with disabilities. It may not be a great movie, but it is an exceptionally touching one.

The film's main characters are a boy (Nathan Gamble) with a missing father and his cousin (Austin Stowell), a soldier with a missing appendage. Both of them see themselves in Winter (played by that frisky bottlenose herself), and find strength in how, despite loss and disfigurement, she energetically keeps on keeping on.

Gamble is excellent as Sawyer, a troubled 11-year-old, detached from school, family, and life. When he encounters the injured dolphin, he gets attached. Gamble's vinegary performance cuts through the considerable schmaltz of a screenplay with so much incident that it truly does have everything but the bloodhounds snapping at Sawyer's rear.

Gamble previously played the grief-stricken son in Marley & Me. In emotional believability and skill, he looks to be the next Josh Hutcherson, a young actor who can act. Gamble's laser-beam focus helps this diffuse movie find its theme - resilience - and its heart.

Gamble's adult costars - who include Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, and Harry Connick Jr. - don't bring much to the game. But between the earnest boy, his playful mammal, the film from actor-turned-director Charles Martin Smith is a winning family entertainment.EndText

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