A family film inspired by the real-life tale of the dolphin Winter, who got her tail caught in a crab trap, and who subsequently was fitted with a [[ArtificialLimbs prosthetic tail]].
A sequel, ''Dolphin Tale 2'', was released in 2014 and focuses on how Winter became companions with another dolphin named Hope.
* ArtificialLimb: The whole plot of the movie revolves around Winter getting one.
* AsHerself: The real Winter portrays herself. It's not like they could've gotten any ''other'' dolphin with an artificial tail, after all.
** The real Hope portrays herself as well.
** Surfer Bethany Hamilton also makes an appearance in the second film as well.
** Kyle gives Sawyer a Swiss Army Knife early on. Sawyer later uses it to cut the ropes away from Winter.
** Also, the discussion of how seat belts rub. Sawyer compares it to the way the sock feels against Winter's skin.
* CloudCuckooLander / BunnyEarsLawyer: Dr. [=McCarthy=]. Eccentric...but he knows what he is doing, and he ends up making a prosthetic tail for Winter the Dolphin.
* CrushBlush: Rufus the pelican, in hos own manner, after he develops a crush on Mavis the sea turtle in the second film.
* TheDeterminator: Sawyer, Hazel, Clay (at least the first time around), Reed, and Dr. [=McCarthy=].
* DrowningMySorrows: Winter does her own version of this [[spoiler: after Panama passes away]].
* DuelingMovies: With ''SoulSurfer''.
* FeedByExample: When all the more qualified aquatic life hospital employees didn't know how to convince Winter to drink from the bottle she needed to drink from, newcomer Sawyer came up with the idea to drink from it himself in front of her... [[spoiler:and it worked, providing this trope's page image.]]
* FriendlyPlayfulDolphin: The movie definitely applies this trope strongly to Winter, and indicates it for other aquarium dolphins as well.
* HandicappedBadass: Winter and Kyle.
* JustPlaneWrong: Remote control helicopters don't pilot themselves like that... when the controls went slack, the most likely case is that the RC helicopter would autorotor down, not zoom through several tight spaces.
** Without control input it will just keep going in a straight line until it hits something or flies out of sight. The throttle/rudder stick has no spring on the up/down axis, it just stays where you put it. And without cyclic input it will just keep doing what it was already doing when you stopped giving it cyclic input.
* MrFanservice: And how! An entire male high school swim team wearing nothing but tight swim trunks appears in the beginning. Harry Connick Jr. in a tight t-shirt and shorts may count as well.
* NoCelebritiesWereHarmed: The mogul who purchases the aquarium resembles Richard Branson.
* OnlyInMiami: Averted -- and how. Movie takes place in Clearwater, Florida -- which is a lesser known, but by no means obscure, city on the West Coast of Florida.
** Specifically, it's the third largest City in the Tampa Bay Area, after Tampa and St. Petersburg. It's generally known for nice beaches, but that's about it.
* ParentalAbandonment: Sawyer's father left the family 5 years ago, and nobody has heard from him since. Hazel's mother passed away when Hazel was 7 years old.
* ThePest: Rufus the pelican.
* PluckyGirl: Hazel for sure. Lorraine could be considered an adult version, since she does not give up on Sawyer or Kyle.
* [[RecycledInSpace Recycled At Sea]]: ''FreeWilly'' [-WITH A DOLPHIN-]!
* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: Winter did obtain a prosthetic tail after losing her real one. She lives at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Almost everything else is fictional. After the movie, real footage of Winter's rescue and rehabilitation is shown before the credits.
** Hope, the dolphin from the sequel, beached herself and was brought to the Clearwater Aquarium during the first movie's wrap party. The dolphin trainers left the party to help, and the filming lights were put to use to light her arrival!