Dolphin Reef Parent Guide
Streaming on Disney+: An easy to digest introduction to the complex and beautiful world of coral reefs and the creatures who live around them.
Parent Movie Review
Echo is a three-year-old bottlenose dolphin who lives around a Polynesian reef with his mother, Kumo, and their pod. Echo is supposed to be learning adult skills like hunting, but he would rather play and explore. His curiosity leads him to discover mantis shrimp, parrotfish, humpback whales, and many other ocean creatures.
One thing to know about me is that I’m a huge Planet Earth fan. I consider those to be the pinnacle of nature documentaries. Dolphin Reef is the first Disneynature documentary I have seen, and Planet Earth it is not. But I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. This is a documentary designed for young audiences, so the structure and production choices reflect that. The focus is on narrative and learning general facts about these creatures rather than a deep dive into zoology and ecology. The writers have chosen to humanize the animals by placing human emotions and motivations on them, especially the dolphins, in a way that an adult viewer will know is not accurate to reality. But this choice is, I think, effective for younger audiences. Children can relate to a young dolphin with curious tendencies, or a mantis shrimp who just wants a clean house. Complicated concepts like the reef ecosystem are oversimplified, making them easily digestible for young kids.
Natalie Portman’s narration is well done and engaging to listen to. At some points she literally puts words into animals’ mouths which adds humor, though adults might roll their eyes a bit. Her tone of voice and inflections lend themselves to the overall approach of the film.
Dolphin Reef is an enjoyable and educational choice for families. My three-year-old was highly engaged and learned a lot. Even I, a nature documentary junkie, learned a few things. He got a little scared once or twice, but nothing that made him want to turn it off or leave. It’s a nature documentary, so there’s going to be some peril and some fish are going to get eaten, but it never feels gratuitous. The narrator mentions that humans have a part to play in the reef ecosystem, but never explains how, which could be a great jumping off point for families to discuss how our actions impact our world and the creatures that live there.
And if you’re wondering how very young children will enjoy this film, here are some quotes from my three year old: “Mommy, there’s so many fishies!” “Look! The dolphins are jumping out of the ocean!” “Oh no, they’re fighting! That’s not good.”Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey. Starring Natalie Portman. Running time: 77 minutes. Theatrical release April 3, 2020. Updated April 10, 2020
Watch the trailer for Dolphin Reef
Rating & Content Info
Why is Dolphin Reef rated G? Dolphin Reef is rated G by the MPAA
Violence: A mantis shrimp and a crab fight each other. A shark feeding frenzy is shown. Rival dolphin pods fight. A pod of orcas try to hunt a baby humpback whale. Shots of turtle skeletons.
Sexual Content: None
Alcohol / Drug Use: None
Page last updated April 10, 2020
Dolphin Reef Parents' Guide
The narrator says that dolphins depend on us and that their world is our world. What does she mean by this? Are we responsible for the oceans? What can we do to protect our oceans and reefs?
Coral reefs like the one Echo lives in are early casualties of climate change. To learn more, check the following links.
Coral Reef Alliance: Global Threats
Great Barrier Reef Foundation: Climate Change
If you want to know what you can do to help save coral reefs, check these links:
National Ocean Service: What can I do to protect coral reefs?
Environmental Protection Agency: What You Can Do to Help Protect Coral Reefs
Coral Reef Alliance: Saving the World’s Coral Reefs
Loved this movie? Try these books…
For youngsters who want to know more about dolphins, National Geographic offers a photo-and fact-filled book, Dolphins, by Melissa Stewart.
Preschoolers will enjoy Nicola Davies’ and Brita Granstrom’s picture book, Dolphin Baby! This follows a baby calf from birth as he develops the skills a dolphin needs to survive.
Early elementary readers seeking adventure can jump into the Magic Tree House series and read Dolphins at Daybreak by Mary Pope Osborne.
Adults and older teens who want a deep dive into the world of dolphins, including our cultural beliefs and scientific understanding, can read Susan Casey’s Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins.
Related home video titles:p>Disneynature’s first documentary, Earth, follows three animal families – polar bears, humpback whales, and elephants. The next in the series is Oceans, which takes viewers on a tour through some of the most unspoiled aquatic environments left on earth.
Penguins is another Disneynature docudrama, this time following flightless seabirds in the coldest oceans on earth. For a standard documentary treatment, try March of the Penguins, which was produced by National Geographic and narrated by Morgan Freeman.
Dolphin Tale is a fictional story about the rescue and rehabilitation of an injured dolphin named Winter who is cared for at an aquarium. Its sequel, Dolphin Tale 2, sees Winter’s human friends trying to make sure he can remain at the aquarium instead of being shipped to another one.
Coral reefs provide stunning backdrops for animated movies. Finding Nemo and its sequel, Finding Dory, both begin in reef seascapes before exploring the wider ocean. The Little Mermaid also begins under the ocean and includes “Under the Sea’, an irresistible musical tribute to life under the water.