Feel good rock’em sock’em saga ‘Real Steel’; plus heartwarming ‘Dolphin Tale.’
Most family films during this current moviegoing era have been animated, which is why it was particularly satisfying to enjoy two family films that featured real actors as well as some impressive CGI, Real Steel and Dolphin Tale.
Real Steel’s trailer emphasized the giant boxing robots in this decade-in-the-future sci-fi tale about a world where human boxers have given way to the mechanical variety because they can display more mayhem. And, yes the animated action of the robot pugilists is pretty exciting. However, the film, directed by Shawn Levy (Date Night, Battle at the Museum), is also very much about a father and son, long estranged, who are reluctantly thrown together.
Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a former boxer who has been barely surviving lately as a robot-boxing promoter. A classic dreamer who has shirked responsibility, he has to face the 11-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo) he abandoned years earlier. He sees a fat payoff when he finds out the boy’s aunt and adopted mom (Hope Davis) has married a wealthy man. Charlie agrees to take the boy and get to know him for a few months if he is given money to do so.
So here we have a son who is paired up with this stranger, his biological father. They share a love of robot boxing and that is just enough of an edge for the two to go from cautious adversaries to reluctant partners in the robot boxing game, and eventually a real father and son in a summer of discovery and rock’em sock’em action.
The boxing sequences are spectacular, especially the notion that there are underground arenas where the action takes place with a colorful assortment of characters. Charlie, Max and the underdog ‘bot they find in a junkyard, Atom, move up to the big-time professional robot boxing game after gaining a reputation in the underground arenas. Eventually, they talk their way into a showdown with the undefeated super ’bot Zeus.
Jackman’s varied career has included a bunch of macho men, led by Wolverine, and the occasional romantic role (Kate & Leopold, Australia) but he has never been more charming than as Charlie, a man who finds himself when he reaches out to his son and finds out how satisfying it can be to be a flawed, but engaging, role model. Goya is terrific as the son who desperately wants to understand why his father ignored him for so long, and former Lost star Evangeline Lilly also shows up as Charlie’s sometimes girlfriend.
Real Steel has the underdog boxing feel of a robot Rocky paired with the story of a lovable lug who learns that being a dad is even better than winning a big fight. It adds up to a knockout of a film.
Whale of a Tale
Dolphin Tale, directed by Charles Martin Smith (he played Toad in American Graffiti and directed the great family film Air Bud), is a top entry in the “lovable animal and his human best buddy” genre. Animal lovers, be prepared to tear up several times as this heartwarming family film hits all the heartstrings inherent in the genre, plus a few more generated by the true side of this “based on a true story.”
Winter, the real part of the tale, is a dolphin that was found on a Florida beach as a baby, badly injured with a tail so damaged, it had to be amputated. She wasn’t expected to make it, but thanks to fabulous caregivers at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and a doctor who designs artificial limbs for wounded soldiers, she was given a chance to thrive and a new artificial tail.
For the movie, a young boy, Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), is thrown into a mix, troubled, shy and in need of something to get him excited. Winter fits the bill and when they find each other, the bond is strong enough to make grown men and women cry.
The adults who also turn up include Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Kris Kristofferson and as a background extra, Abby Stone, Winter’s real-life primary trainer and caregiver.
Dolphin Tale is an exceptional family film.