A quick question, before we go further: why do you think Warner Bros’ wholesome 2011 family adventure Dolphin Tale — “the amazing true story of a brave dolphin and the compassionate strangers who banded together to save her life,” thank you official synopsis — generated disappointing results at the US box office?

Your answer, if you bothered to click on the above link and had a gander at the film’s official website or simply came up with an assumption from that pithy plot description, was probably something along the lines of “because it looks/sounds like the equivalent of a block of Hollywood cheese the size of a car battery and thus does not appeal to my filmic palette.”

But, in fact, it was a trick question.

Dolphin Tale received a generally positive response from critics and opened at number three at the US box office, behind Moneyball and The Lion King 3D. The next week it slid to the #1 spot, spawning a great many “swims to the top” style headlines from a plethora of news outlets. Domestically the fishy inspired by a true story yarn racked up around US$72 million (from a production budget of US$37 million) and will take plenty more when ancillaries start rolling in.

However, according to a spokesperson for Time Warner shareholder and conservative think tank power player David A. Ridenour, Dolphin Tale was a disappointment. Not only that, he has “evidence” to “prove” why, and presented it — via spokesperson — at the annual Time Warner shareholder meeting held this week.

You see, prior to the film’s release in September last year star Morgan Freeman said during an appearance on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight — and I’m only slightly paraphrasing him — that the Tea Party are a bunch of racists who want to kick out Obama from the White House (for the exact quote, check here). Thus, according to Ridenour and his flunkies, ensuring the film would lose millions at the box office.

Ridenour’s “evidence” was a Hollywood Reporter poll that found “conservatives and people of faith originally expressed more interest than liberals in seeing Dolphin Tale but 34 percent of conservatives and 37 percent of Tea Party members were less likely to see it after hearing about Freeman’s remarks.” There’s a million words one could use to scrutinize the legitimacy of such a poll, including the demographic and the manner with which questions were phrased, but make of it as you will.

This tale of dolphins, Morgan Freeman’s grasp of politics and box office revenue — real or imagined — serves as backdrop for a new film on the horizon; a feature as guaranteed of box office success as they come: Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rising.

At the Time Warner meeting, Ridenour’s rep posed the following question:

“What specific steps will Time Warner take to ensure that Mr. Freeman avoids such divisive and insulting words while promoting his next Warner Bros. film, The Dark Knight Rises?”

Pause a moment and imagine the dark ramifications associated with the idea of actors being contractually gagged from presenting ideological opinions, no matter what side of the political divide they arise from. Generally, in the film PR world, gagging operates the other way around, i.e. an interviewer is instructed not to ask about a star’s recent bitter divorce, cocaine-fuelled arrest, Zionist rants, naked frolics down Sunset Boulevard, etcetera.

Jeff Bewkes, Tim Warner CEO, answered Ridenour’s question by saying:

“What can we do about it? Is that the question? Not much.”

That response was — according to The Hollywood Reporter — greeted with “a smattering of applause.” Bewkes added that “it (actors voicing political opinions) doesn’t usually have a significant commercial effect on the success of the film.”

A press release from Ridenour’s think tank, The National Center for Public Policy Research, took a different interpretation, describing the CEO’s “not much” retort as a “stunning admission.”

This whole storm in a Tea cup reeks of misguided politics and the antics of idiots. By spawning worldwide coverage of Freeman’s political opinions and an apparent attempt to censor them, or at least a desire to, Ridenour and co. have ensured the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises will grace the PR circuit knowing that whatever political views they express will likely get greater circulation than normal or necessary.

One of the stars of The Dark Knight Rises is Christian Bale, a chap not exactly known for level-headed politically correct demeanour. If by chance he doesn’t much like the Tea Party, and now feels compelled to express him opinions, good luck, Mr Ridenour, with bringing it up at next year’s meeting.