Review: Dolphin Reef is the delightful, wondrous joy we need right now

With Earth the way it is right now, it feels absolutely fantastic to briefly escape virtually to a magical underwater world filled with fascinating creatures.

That's just what Dolphin Reef offers and it's released via Disney Plus on Friday.

The nature documentary centres on a pod of Pacific Bottlenose dolphins who live around a coral reef near a group of Polynesian islands.

Dolphin Reef focuses largely on three-year-old Echo, whose mother Kumu is eagerly trying to help mature despite his being more interested in playing than anything serious.

It's truly a delightful little film, obviously targeting a younger audience than the likes of BBC documentaries Planet Earth and Blue Planet, but not too cutesy as to annoy adults.

As well as the pod of dolphins, the film also follows a humpback whale mother, calf and prospective male protectors, who have a dramatic confrontation with some orcas.

A very cool mantis shrimp also gets a lot of screen time that kids in particular will appreciate, while a scene of mass parrot fish pooping will definitely trigger some giggles and guffaws. Another highlight is seeing schools of fish form orderly queues and wait their turn for little cleaning fish to give them a treatment.

But the dolphin footage is the greatest. Seeing the pod do things like carrying out synchronised sleeping, using stingrays to help them find food, using their own sonar power to find fish and so on provides wondrous joy.

Film review - Disneynature's Dolphin Reef is the delightful, wondrous joy we need right now.
Photo credit: Disney Plus

Echo's climactic scene documents his learning to master a fishing technique of creating a mud cloud ring in shallow water that traps fish to eat. It's extraordinarily filmed and makes for a jaw-droppingly impressive sequence.

Natalie Portman is ideal as the voiceover star, switching from playfulness to drama and sass to soothing in all the right places. 

The photography is also consistently brilliant with the camera operators getting right up amongst the dolphins and whales and in amazingly tight on the little coral creatures. 

I did find myself wondering how they filmed a lot of it. Thankfully, the end credits play over behind-the-scenes footage that shows just that.

It's a great end to a great film. I only wish it were a little longer than its abridged feeling 78-minute runtime and that perhaps more of those minutes were spent on the dolphins, rather than their underwater cousins.

Four stars.

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