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Case Number 05205

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Flipper (1963)

Warner Bros. // 1963 // 90 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 20th, 2004

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All Rise...

They call him Johnson! Johnson! Wha-at a wonderful...um....review...guy! Judge David Johnson once befriended a dolphin, until it was drafted by the Navy to sweep for mines. He still thinks about him to this day.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Flipper's New Adventure (published September 20th, 2004) and Flipper: The Original Series: Season 1 (published May 9th, 2007) are also available.

Opening Statement

Before Jaws, before Orca, before that thing swimming around the trash pit on the Death Star—there was a happy dolphin that danced around in the water and ate fish.

Facts of the Case

Porter Ricks (Chuck Connors, Airplane 2) lords over a small family on the weather-beaten coast of Florida. In their quaint little house (read: ramshackle hovel), Porter, his wife Martha (Kathleen Maguire), and son Sandy (Luke Halpin) have built a simple life that ebbs and flows with the amount of fish Porter hauls into his boat.

But when Hurricane Hazel (can you tell this movie was made in the '60s?) batters the town, rebounding from the damage will take an effort from everyone in the family: Dad will fix his boat, Son will clear the debris, and Mom will…uh…cook?

While Porter heads for the mainland to get the boat repaired, Sandy is tasked with a load of chores. However, he's distracted when a freak accident leads to a dolphin receiving the business end of an errant harpoon shot.

Sandy convinces his mother to let him care for the dolphin in the family fish pen, which is empty since Porter is out of town. So begins an unfolding of the tale of the friendship between a boy and a dolphin named Flipper. Flipper allows Sandy to take rides on him through the water, and Sandy in return throws raw fish at Flipper's face.

The local children hear of this miniature Sea World, and began coming out in droves to see the fantastic trick Sandy has taught Flipper. That is, "fetch." The children "ooh" and "ahh" as they see the dolphin repeatedly retrieve whatever piece of junk Sandy throws into the water.

But the sea-going circus comes to an end when Porter returns. Unhappy with the lack of chore-completion, he lets Flipper out, back into the sea, much to the chagrin of Sandy, who has apparently foregone any kind of human interaction.

Unfortunately for Flipper and his ilk, fishing is sparse, and the disgruntled fishermen (Porter included) fear that dolphins are responsible for scarfing up the object of their livelihood. Translation: Dolphins will be shot, and probably barbequed, and Flipper will become "Flipper-over-she's-done-on-this side."

Sandy must now race to show the world that dolphins are fun and great and love mankind.

The Evidence

Want inoffensive family fare? Well, here you go. Flipper has no latent sexual innuendo or guest cameos by Paris Hilton—you've got a boy, a dolphin, and a solid nuclear family. Sure the film is dated, but I'd think it would make fine entertainment for children not completely spoiled by the hyper-kinetic Power Rangers mish-mash or the MTV Video Music Awards.

You grown-ups probably won't get too much out of this. Seriously, the movie is about some kid frolicking with a dolphin, so unless you're plastered on paint thinner or sipping a prescription pain medication frappe, Flipper may not be that compelling for you.

There are some pretty weird little bits in the movie that I must address. First, the character of Porter, Sandy's dad: this guy is a hard-ass. Even when he's running around in tight high-water jeans, he still projects a tough-as-nails demeanor. When he gives out chores (and these are serious chores—not washing the dishes or making the bed, but moving hurricane debris and fixing the roof and such), Sandy doesn't complain an iota. He'd probably be keel-hauled if he uttered the smallest whine. Another example: following the hurricane, as Sandy's parents survey the damage and let the ordeal sink in, Porter turns to his wife and says, "Thanks for not crying." Dude ain't playing.

Finally, there's the shotgun scene. Just as I'm mentioning to my wife that this would be a dandy family movie, Sandy decides onscreen to put Flipper out of his misery. He calmly takes down the shotgun that's hanging in his room (?!), loads a couple of cartridges, runs through the house cradling the loaded weapon, and heads off by himself in a boat to blow the brains out of an injured dolphin. Maybe in the '60s pre-teens could be trusted with double-barreled euthanasia, but these days…

Flipper receives an impressive DVD transfer. The "matted" widescreen does a good job preserving the theatrical presentation, and the video is pretty sharp. Some spots are iffy, but for the most part Warner did a decent job. The audio is the original mono, and, well…it blows. Extras are sparse, with just trailers—but a superfluous Tom and Jerry cartoon has been included for good measure.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

That Flipper song sucks. It sounds like it's being crooned by a pair of demon-possessed fourth-graders.

Closing Statement

This one is for the kids, and for parents who want to breathe easy in playing a harmless DVD. Just keep the shotguns and ammo out of your kid's room.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Just don't sing that damn song.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 75
Extras: 80
Acting: 85
Story: 85
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Rated G
• All Ages
• Classic
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers
• Bonus Cartoon


• IMDb

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