The deal is now sealed to make a sequel to Dolphin Tale in Pinellas County, starting in October.
Alcon Entertainment announced Friday that Dolphin Tale 2 has been green-lighted, after weeks of negotiations succeeded in rehiring the original's stars including Harry Connick Jr., Oscar winner Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. They signed off on the screenplay written by Charles Martin Smith, who also returns as director.
Winter the bottlenose dolphin, whose rescue and rehabilitation with a prosthetic tail inspired the movies and Clearwater Marine Aquarium visitors, will again play herself.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who approved $5 million in state funds toward Alcon's production costs, joined aquarium CEO David Yates at the aquarium Friday for the formal announcement. Scott emphasized economic estimates that tourism and jobs resulting from the original Dolphin Tale will spur $2 billion of economic impact over five years.
"The odds are we'll get a great return on this (sequel) investment," the governor said. "If everything we did in this state where your dollars are invested, you could get $2 billion worth of economic impact? That would be a pretty good deal."
Principal photography of Dolphin Tale 2 is expected to begin in mid October, continuing until mid January, with breaks for Thanksgiving and December holidays. Once again the aquarium where Winter lives will be the primary filming location — the houseboat set is still anchored there — with occasional closings to be announced.
Warner Bros. previously announced a Sept. 19, 2014, debut for Dolphin Tale 2 in theaters.
Alcon's co-CEO Andrew Kosove said during negotiations in June that making a Dolphin Tale sequel wasn't an easy decision. "We did a true-life story that was really a class-act movie," Kosove said. "The last thing I was thinking about was doing (a sequel). … But we're very excited."
Then came another true story with sequel potential, pitched by Yates, a co-producer of Dolphin Tale. During the original film's wrap party in December 2010, aquarium officials learned an orphaned Atlantic bottlenose dolphin had been recovered on Florida's east coast, near the same lagoon where Winter was found entangled in a crab trap in 2005. The calf, later named Hope, was transported to Clearwater Marine Aquarium where she recovered and resides.
Dolphin Tale 2 will focus on Hope's bonding with Winter and her adoptive mother Panama, plus Winter's struggles adapting to her artificial tail. "We put a lot of real-life elements that we held back in Dolphin Tale into this movie that have not been told before," Yates said.
The theme of coping with the loss of a parent is paralleled by characters played by Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Nathan Gamble, children missing their parents through death or divorce.
"Our protagonists are older now," Kosove said, "and the issues they deal with as teenagers make the storytelling of this sequel arguably more compelling than the first film."
One technical step in the process will be easier since Dolphin Tale 2 won't be filmed in 3-D, with the heavy equipment and extra expense that entails. Kosove didn't rule out the possibility of converting the movie to 3-D in post-production. Kosove said that the sequel's budget and shooting schedule are comparable to the original's, a $37 million production filmed over 55 workdays.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium's Yates began lobbying Alcon for a sequel shortly after the movie opened to positive reviews and $19.1 million in ticket sales in September 2011. After debuting in third place on the box office chart — behind The Lion King's 3-D reissue and Moneyball — Dolphin Tale leaped to No. 1 in its second week, a rarity in Hollywood. Dolphin Tale eventually grossed $72.3 million at domestic box offices plus another $23 million overseas and $24 million in domestic DVD sales.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.