14-year-old Annabel Coleridge (Tyler Jade Nixon) knows what it's like to live in a community where loving connection with other people is a part of daily life. She lives in the Bahamas where her parents founded a marine research and conservation center. Since their deaths due to a diving accident when she was only five, she's lived with her grandfather, Jonah (Peter Woodward), where together they have tried to keep the center going, with plenty of help from local friends.
Anna's best friend, though, is Mitzy, a dolphin that lives at the center. Mitzy does all the tricks that dolphins do but she also contributes to cleaning up the ocean by bringing up trash from the bottom and tossing it to Jonah, who collects it for recycling.
While Anna is at school one day, Desaray Rolle (Dionne Lea), a social worker new to Anna's case, visits Jonah to assess Anna's living situation. They live on their fishing boat and at first glance, it doesn't look like a great situation for a teenage girl. Mrs. Rolle is not impressed and Jonah is less than pleased with her visit.
Tyler Jade Nixon and Peter Woodward in "Dolphin Island." © 2021 Entertainment Squad. All Rights Reserved.
Enter the film's bad guy. Mr. Carbunkle (Bob Bledsoe) is painted as a caricature of a lawyer who shadows Anna as she returns home from school. He gives her a letter that will "explain everything" and asks her to call him. Carbunkle has been retained by Sam and Sheryl Williams (David Raizor and Annette Lovrien Duncan), Anna's maternal grandparents and wealthy New York socialites, to contest Jonah's custody of Annabel. They have never related well to Jonah, thinking their daughter wasted her life by marrying his son. They don't want the same for Anna and seek to bring her back to New York so she can widen her experience. Anna, however, wants to stay with Jonah.
What Sam and Sheryl don't understand is that Jonah has indeed provided a loving home and community for Annabel and she's a happy, well-rounded young woman. When Anna sees a teen stealing a tourists' wallet, she urges him to do the right thing and return it. He's Mateo (Aaron Burrows), and the two become friends.
The battle for custody of Anna and the consequent happenings (including plenty of fun antics from Mitzy) show just how important connection to family and community is for all people, but especially young people today. "Dolphin Island" brings home that money and status are not the keys to happiness. Love and connection are. When first impressions are less than favorable, many times getting to know someone deeper, hearing their story, can cause us to see another with new eyes, like Jonah and Desaray discovered.
Tyler Jade Nixon as Annabel with Mitzy in "Dolphin Island." © 2021 Entertainment Squad. All Rights Reserved.
"Dolphin Island" doesn't break any ground in the originality department as the movie is very predictable but it's a breath of fresh air in that the whole family can enjoy this hope-filled film at a time when the continued pandemic has some longing for a return to "normalcy." The film, available now on a number of streaming platforms, also has an inspiring backstory. Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in the late summer of 2019 and caused massive devastation. Mike Disa, the film's director, wanted to help bring jobs and tourism back to the area, so he wrote this film and produced it in the Bahamas. Proceeds from the film still help relief efforts there. He also wanted to encourage young women to consider careers in STEM: science, technology, engineering, mathematics.
In a time when we struggle to see people's faces behind their masks and from six feet away, the story of love and connection present in "Dolphin Island" can be a boost to live this strange time with hope.