Flipper

Flipper is a family movie about the friendship between a boy and a dolphin. When a spoiled young teen named Sandy is sent to spend the summer with his uncle, Porter Ricks, on the small island of Coral Key, he never expects to like it. He resents being sent to this remote place, unable to attend the rock concerts he loves and also at the mercy of an uncle he views as merely a poor fisherman and a beach bum. Porter is one of society's mavericks, choosing to live humbly, free from social conventions and in the casual climate of the tropics. He fishes for a meager income and takes Sandy out on his trawler, The Reliable. While out on the boat one day, they encounter another local named Dirk who is leading a drunken band of party fishermen on his boat, the Bounty Hunter, a much fancier craft than Porter's. Dirk, concerned mainly with profit, believes that dolphins are responsible for eating the fish in the area and ruining his business. After watching Dirk murder a mother dolphin, Sandy becomes protective of her baby who has taken refuge behind The Reliable. Sandy directs Dirk away from the orphan and in this moment, as he protects the dolphin, Sandy makes a loyal friend. The dolphin not only follows them to port, but becomes a constant companion to Sandy. As the friendship between boy and dolphin becomes solidified, so do many other friendships for Sandy. He meets a teenage girl named Kim with whom he is quite enamored. He is even able to get a non-verbal child named Marvin, the son of Porter's girlfriend, to come out of his shell and play with the dolphin whom Sandy names Flipper. "Dirty" Dirk is opposed to the dolphin hanging around and tries to capture and kill Flipper. Sandy saves his pal, but, unfortunately, the authorities insist that the dolphin must be in a licensed captivity program or sent back out to sea. They try unsuccessfully to return Flipper to the wild. Within days, Flipper is back in the cove, but appears to be dying. They save Flipper, but discover that toxic waste is destroying the local fishing grounds and was the cause of Flipper's illness. Together with his human friends, Flipper uncovers the actual site of the toxic waste and also the man responsible for dumping the pollutants. This dolphin hero not only brings the villain to justice, but, in so doing, saves Sandy, from a near fatal shark attack. As the Environmental Protection Agency cleans up the pollution, Flipper finds a new dolphin family in the clean waters and changes a boys life forever.

  • Starring: Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood
  • Director(s): Alan Shapiro
  • Producer(s): Bubble Factory
  • Screenwriter(s): Ricou Browning, Jack Cowden
  • Distributor: Universal Pictures
  • Release Date: Thursday, February 08, 1996
  • Rating: Acceptable

Featured Animal Action

Three dolphins were used to play Flipper and were supplied by Dolphin Encounters in the Bahamas on location where the film was made. A regular training and shooting schedule was based on what was best for the dolphins. Rather than working around the film schedule, they were given regular days off. The housing facility for the dolphins consisted of three pens, two of which measured 30 X 80 feet and one that was 60 X 80 feet, all with perimeter netting. A twenty four hour security guard was on the premises and the trainer, a dolphin specialist, lived near by. In addition to the daily on set supervision of the American Humane Association, facility inspections were made by the Fisheries Department of the Bahamas. Spot inspections were also made by various dolphin and interested humane societies. The water was checked daily for pH balance, temperature, and salinity. During weekly tactile sessions, the dolphins were checked all over for any irregularities. When transporting any of the dolphins from the facility to a filming location, a specially designed transport was used. The transport was a 10 X 10 foot floating wooden frame with a netting enclosure below large enough to accommodate one dolphin. The dolphin was led into the enclosure with food, a behavior learned in pre-production The transport was then pulled very slowly to the new location. Veterinarians and trainers were on hand in support boats during these moves. General training was started before principal photography began and continued during the course of the filming. Three to five training sessions per day were normally scheduled to provide positive reinforcement. The training involved more than one trainer and, through the use of visual and buzzer commands with food rewards, the dolphins were trained for a variety of behaviors that included waves, bows, circles, claps, tail walks, tail slaps, delivering items underwater and the ventral layout beside a person. Throughout the film the dolphin is seen "porpoising" or swimming beside a moving boat. This porpoising, swimming in and out of the water, was learned in pre-production, as well. As the film opens, we see underwater shots of dolphins swimming and frolicking. Similar shots, both of dolphin groups and of Flipper alone, are seen throughout the film and were shot using a camera that was rigged to shoot both above and below the surface of the water. Sandy arrives on Coral Key to find his uncle drinking beer and even sharing some with his pet pelican, Pete. As Sandy watches from Porter's house, we see Porter ride his water skies right up to the dock. He hops onto the dock, takes a beer in his hand and greets Pete who is sitting on a barrel. As Pete opens his large beak, Porter empties the can of beer directly into it. Porter saunters off toward the house and Pete follows along. For this scene, the bird was placed by his trainer on the barrel. The trainer, who stayed close by, gave the bird food rewards to stay in place. When the pelican drinks the beer, it was a result of conditioned training. The bird assumed that there was food in the can, but as the cameras rolled, water was substituted for the food which gave the impression that the bird was happily drinking beer. For the shot of Pete following Porter, the actor was given a clicker which the bird had been trained to follow. There are several scenes in the film where we see Pete being a pal to Sandy, coming and going through a vinyl fabric flap that acted as a door in Porter's house, sitting in Porter's mailbox and surviving a tropical storm with Porter and Sandy. Three pelicans were used for the film. They were supplied by the Singapore Jurong Bird Park. When not being filmed, they were kept in large cages equipped with baby pools of water in which they could splash. The cages were cleaned twice a day. They were trained every day with clicker commands and food rewards and their body weight was monitored daily. When the bird is seen on the sofa hanging out with his teenage buddy, Sandy, sitting in Porter's mailbox, or splashing in a pool of water after a tropical storm, the trainer merely placed the bird and used food rewards. When the tropical storm sends Porter and Sandy running for the storm shelter, Pete is carried in Porter's arms to safety and to wait out the storm with his human friends. For this particular scene, the actor was prepped by the trainer in the proper handling of the bird. After the storm is over, we see Pete leap from the shelter into the sunshine and splash around in a pool of water on the deck of Porter's boat which was damaged in the storm. To accomplish this, one trainer held the bird and tossed it through the open shelter door and the bird fluttered to the ground where a second trainer was waiting. When we see the dolphins swimming near to both the Bounty Hunter and The Reliable, trainers were on hand tossing fish in the area where they wanted the dolphins to be filmed. Early in the film, when we first encounter Dirk with his drunken fishermen clients, we see the dolphins swimming after their bait and nibbling at the hooked fish. The scene was shot in cuts. Dead fish had been purchased and placed on the hooks and it was animatronic dolphins that were nibbling and chasing them. When we see the dolphin actually taking a fish, it was filmed separately with a trainer reeling in a dead fish on a line of monofilament that had been threaded through the lower lip of the fish. One trainer releases the dolphin and a second trainer, standing on a platform, reels in the fish which the dolphin follows and then bites. There was no hook involved. Dirk is seen catching a fish, stepping on it and yanking the hook out of its mouth in frustration because it is too small a catch for him. In drunken hostility, he picks up a rifle and shoots at the family of dolphins and kills the mother. As we watch the wounded dolphin sink to her death, we see her baby nudge the body as if to push it to the surface and back to life. Sadly, the orphaned dolphin swims over to The Reliable, seeking refuge. Sandy and Porter view Dirk as a murderer and send him off in a direction away from the young dolphin. When we see the wounded mother being buoyed by her baby, both dolphins were animatronic. Just before the murder, we see Dirk brutally yank the hook from a fish that he has just caught. This sequence was filmed in cuts. When we first see the fish on the deck, a live fish is used. The fish was actually kept in a controlled container and only out of water for twenty seconds for the filming of this scene. The fish was later released back into an appropriate natural habitat. The camera cuts away from the fish and back to the actor, who merely gives the impression that he was stepping on the fish and yanking the hook out of its mouth. We immediately see a shot of the fish flopping around on the deck. For this a dead fish, purchased as food, was rigged with a line of monofilament which was controlled off screen, making it appear as though the fish was flopping around. Without his mother, the baby dolphin wanders around before finding Coral Key and deciding to adopt Sandy as his caretaker. We see him encounter a Sea Turtle, several Moray Eels and various underwater life forms. He also spies a Hammerhead Shark and watches as the menacing creature emerges from below the water's surface to gobble up a sea gull. For this sequence, shot in cuts, animatronic dolphins were used. The Sea Turtle was guided by his trainer into the area of filming and later returned to the Coral Island Aquarium, which was his home. The Moray Eels were filmed in their natural habitat where they were fed often by a local dive master. All the other invertebrates seen were also returned to their natural habitats. When the shark is seen, it is an animatronic shark which attacks an animatronic sea gull. The flock of sea gulls seen landing on the water just before the attack were captured locally with a permit to do so and were released immediately following the filming of this sequence. The orphaned dolphin finds his way to Coral Key and finds Sandy sitting out on a dock. The boy kicks a coke can off of the dock and the dolphin tosses it right back. The dolphin continues to follow Sandy around until the boy can no longer ignore his new buddy. We see Flipper knock Sandy off the dock by leaping out of the water and slapping the boy from behind. They swim together and the dolphin pulls the boy along in the water. For this sequence as the friendship solidifies, the dolphin was responding to both verbal and buzzer commands and was rewarded with food by his trainers. One trainer would release the dolphin and the second trainer would use the buzzer to get the dolphin to leap or swim in a particular direction. In some instances in the film, when the dolphin was required to swim to a specific spot, a trainer on the dock would tap the surface of the water and indicate to the dolphin where to swim. When the dolphin knocks Sandy off the dock, the scene was shot in cuts and a fake fin used. When the dolphin pulls the boy through the water, a trainer was present underwater to cue the dolphin. The stunt with the coke can was filmed in cuts. The can itself was made of latex, not aluminum, so that it was heavier than a normal can and not abrasive. Sandy tosses the can as the dolphin pops his head out of the water. From the dock, one trainer gives the dolphin a visual cue to catch the can in his mouth followed by another immediate cue to toss the can back. A second trainer on the dock controls a pole with a line of monofilament attached to the can. As soon as the dolphin releases the can back into the air, the trainer uses the pole to guide the can higher into the air. Eventually, when Sandy wants to impress a pretty teenager named Kim, he convinces her that the dolphin bobbing just off shore is his pet. When she asks the dolphin's name, Sandy looks to the dolphin who is flipping his fin in the water as if to wave. In that moment Sandy gives Flipper his name. He impresses Kim by having Flipper do his coke can trick. We next see that Sandy and Kim have devised a scheme to get free food for Flipper by charging the other kids on the island one dollar plus one fish for the privilege of seeing "Flipper the Wonder Dolphin." Flipper does tricks for the kids including "making change", clapping, waving, bowing, tail walking, tossing a ball and spinning. Even Marvin, a shy child who will not speak, is lured into the water by the friendly dolphin and speaks his first word, "Flipper." The fish used as entry fees were purchased as food. All the stunts were learned in pre-production and trainers were always on hand. The "making change" sequence, was accomplished through extensive pre-production training accompanied by food rewards. Two trainers were under water to cue the dolphin to pick up the coins that were thrown by the kids. The dolphin picks up the coin from the bottom and puts it into a bucket, then goes to a second bucket and picks up the penny change. A trainer on the dock used the pole to tap the surface of the water, indicating to the dolphin where to surface with the change. When Marvin jumps into the water, it was an animatronic dolphin who appeared to be just next to the boy. When the boy is actually in the water and we see Flipper pop up next to him, the boy was taught to slap the water, as the trainer would do, to indicate to the dolphin where to surface. When Sandy and Kim try to help Porter fix his boat that was damaged by the storm, Flipper joins in by handing them a pair of pliers. The pliers were specially made of latex, as was the coke can earlier. For this sequence, two trainers were underwater during training, one at point A to release the dolphin to a buzzer command and one at point B to give him a food reward. For the actual filming, the dolphin responded to the trainer's buzzer command, carrying the pliers, and the actress acted as the second trainer, slapping the water to indicate where the dolphin should surface with the pliers. "Dirty" Dirk is quite upset with the dolphin living around the island and tries to trap and kill Flipper. Sandy and Porter arrive just in time to free Flipper, but Dirk remains determined to alert the authorities and have Flipper removed. For this scene, an animatronic dolphin was used. An animatronic dolphin is actually used throughout the film whenever Flipper is seen bobbing offshore, next to a boat or in the background in a stationary position. The authorities arrive at Porter's dock to tell them that Flipper must be returned to the open sea or to a licensed captivity program. Porter and his girlfriend, Cathy, help Sandy and Kim load Flipper into a transport sling attached to the back of a U.S. Marine and Fisheries boat in order to carry the dolphin out to freedom. For this scene, both an animatronic and a real dolphin were used. Nets were used to guide the dolphin toward a custom made padded fleece lined sling and eased him into it. There were holes in the sling for the pec fins and flares for the tail. When the camera was not rolling, a tarp was provided to shade the animal which was constantly sprayed with iced water while out of the water. Along with the American Humane representative, a veterinarian and a representative from the Bahamian Humane Society were present while filming this scene. The dolphin's breathing rate was monitored as an indicator of stress and the levels remained normal throughout. When the dolphin is seen being unloaded into the ocean, an animatronic dolphin was used. Flipper refuses to be sent away and finds his way back to the cove where Porter and Sandy live. When the dolphin is discovered by Sandy, he is floating near shore and appears to be very ill. Cathy comes over to make what she terms a "dolphin shake" which is a blended concoction of fish heads, worms and gelatin. Flipper reluctantly takes the gelatin cubes as he is being held in the water in a hammock. Eventually, the dolphin revives, but test results show that he had been poisoned by toxic waste. For this sequence, primarily an animatronic dolphin was used. Only when we see Flipper revive is it a real dolphin. Frozen squid and fish were purchased for the making of the Dolphin Shake and fake worms were added. Throughout the film, when we see dead fish or the baiting of fishing hooks, dead fish, purchased as bait or as food, were used. Determined to find the toxic waste dump site, the humans enlist Flipper's help in the search. As they search the waters surrounding Coral Key, Flipper swims out in search of the barrels on the ocean floor and is prompted to report back to the boat. If he finds something, he is to jump up and touch a ball that is dangling off of a pole from the boat. Once he has found the barrels, they attach a "Flippercam" to his head and send him down to photograph the toxic waste evidence. Flipper gets sidetracked when he sees a family of dolphins about to swim near the dump site. He leads them away, but drops the Flippercam. As Porter races back to get the Coast Guard, Sandy stays behind in an inflatable boat to find Flipper. Dirty Dirk shows up, proves to be the culprit in the toxic dumping scheme and sinks Sandy's boat. A shark arrives in the area and is about to devour Sandy when Flipper arrives to save his pal and knock Dirk into the deadly waters. This lengthy sequence was shot in cuts and the dolphin was trained in pre-production to work with the signal ball and the Flippercam. This Flippercam was originally designed by the Navy for work with dolphins and had a bite plate that the dolphin was trained to take into his mouth. For use in the film, the Flippercam was merely a shell of the actual camera and much lighter in weight. When our point of view is through the lens of the Flippercam, the complete camera was actually mounted on an animatronic dolphin. When Flipper saves Sandy from the shark and knocks Dirk overboard with his fin, an animatronic shark and a fake fin were used. A variety of animals were seen briefly in the film. When Sandy arrives on the island, he gets a ride to Porter's via a donkey cart. Following behind is a goat, along with a crate of chickens in the back of the cart. The cart moved very slowly and the animals were attended to by their local owners. When Sandy first enters Porter's house he pets a lizard that is lounging on top of the television set. The lizard was cooled down prior to filming to make him less mobile and later released into the natural habitat of the island.