Bernie the Dolphin takes the viewer to St. Augustine, Florida as two children uncover a plot to destroy their beloved marine hangout—and must conspire to preserve the environment and the dolphins they’ve befriended. (BV: 2.5/5)
Review by Intern Beatrice Viri
Opening with eye-catching visuals of the beaches and ocean, Bernie the Dolphin’s first scene sees Holly (Lola Sultan) and Kevin Ryan (Logan Allen), the film’s sibling protagonists kayaking in a hidden cove. There, they’ve befriended a pod of dolphins, with one in particular taking a liking to them. Kevin, an aspiring videographer, is never seen without his camera, which he usually uses to film the dolphins. One day, the siblings find two suspicious men talking in their sacred haven and Kevin is wary of them. The men spot them, but the children run away before they can say anything, and then go kayaking to relieve some stress. But a boat washes a wave over them, knocking over their kayak and almost causing Holly to drown— that is, until their favorite dolphin rescues her, and the kids are elated to see that their affinity for the dolphin is reciprocated.
After coming home, the kids’ parents find out about their dangerous encounter and forbid them from further sea excursions.Before long, their mother Abby (Dahlia Legault)relents and takes them on the family boat, the Ryan Express, to see their dolphins. However, their favorite—the one that rescued them— is absent. Worried, they search for him everywhere, and ultimately find him in a sanctuary under the care of a kind marine specialist named Sidney (Lily Cardone). The dolphin is sunburned, and thus they dub him Bernie, and further cement their friendship by coming to visit him every day.
Despite finding Bernie, the children’s problems aren’t solved just yet. Their father Bob (Patrick Muldoon) is working for a real estate firm that is planning to turn the children’s cherished cove into a chemical plant under guise of a waterpark. The kids even catch Bob’s boss Winston (Kevin Sorbo)— the villain introduced at the start of the film— and his underling scavenging turtle eggs, which are protected under law. Kevin records the men carrying out their schemes, only to be discovered by them resulting in them confiscating Kevin’s camera. How will they be able to save the day without the footage, and what will happen to Bernie’s home? You’ll have to dip into Bernie the Dolphin to find out.
Honestly, I cannot for the good of me recommend this to anyone above the age of 10, and even then, 10 is pushing it. Some children’s movies are rather nuanced and have surprisingly complex life lessons…but Bernie the Dolphin isn’t one of them. Even so, the film does bring awareness to the subject of marine preservation and saving the environment. It may be quite impactful to a child—I feel that reviewing this film as an adult is unfair because adults are obviously not the intended audience.
Some points I’ll give: the visuals are lovely and the dolphins are incredibly endearing. Environmentally-conscious films usually end tragically, but an uplifting one is a refreshing change that inspires hope. The soundtrack is also quite powerful, matching the drama of each scene. But the overpowering music was needed in order to add some character, because each scene was dry and lacking in charisma. The acting is unbelievably cheesy; the villain is cartoonishly evil and one-dimensional and so ridiculous, it felt like he was taken right from a soap opera. The sibling dynamic was also extremely unrealistic for a brother and sister only two years apart. There was no bickering at all, when usually two siblings so close are bound to fight. However, I will say that though the entire cast was half-hearted with their acting, they definitely seemed aware of the fact that the film was bad. I imagine the budget was low, so it was probably difficult to be more creative because of that. I can appreciate the effort but admittedly, I spent most of the movie wishing for it to be over.
Bernie the Dolphin is a simple, linear story, with easy-to-follow life lessons, a one-dimensional villain and a classic heroic conclusion in which the child protagonists are hailed saviors of the day. If your toddler likes dolphins, the film may be enjoyable! But I’d like to give children credit; I’m sure even they would be able to deduct that the film is cheesy.
© Beatrice Viri (12/12/18) FF2 Media
Does Bernie the Dolphin pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
The film had Holly, her mother and Sidney talk about the dolphins the two siblings dearly wanted to save, and other topics.