“The story of the ocean is one of fierce and natural struggle for survival, but also surely one of tenderness,” narrator Pierce Brosnan (“The Ghost Writer”) sleepily – and a bit pretentiously – drones. Welcome to Disney’s newest documentary, “Oceans,” where seagulls dart like missiles into the salty waters for food and milky-white jellyfish pulsate among the ancient, balloon-eyed Japanese sheepshead wrasse. On the shore, sea otters lazily bake their bellies in the hot sun while crabs shakily scuttle past them, trying not to be eaten.
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As a follow-up to last year’s “Earth,” Disney returns to the environmentalist fold by plunging into our planet’s greatest natural resource in “Oceans.” Directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud (both of “Winged Migration”) and narrated by a bland Brosnan, “Oceans” is an intimate and majestic portrait of the life teeming beneath the shoreline. In other words, it’s a beautiful bore.
Disney’s G-rated portrayal of the planet’s waterways is the equivalent of one of those perfectly-contained snow globes that you can shake and have glitter fall among the smiling sea animals. As the creatures amicably scrub each other’s orifices like the best of barbers and dance together in a perfectly orchestrated ballet, it’s difficult to imagine a scene more harmonic. Never mind that in real life, these creatures may actually be tearing each other apart as they struggle at any cost to survive.
2005’s “March of the Penguins” managed to balance the cute and fluffy with the picture of death looming in the icy white vastness. In “Oceans,” there is no real tension, no real story – Disney seems more interested in creating a 90-minute rendition of a relaxing screensaver than truly representing the murky seas beneath.
For the environmentally conscious, “Oceans” doesn’t provide any more marine awareness than a trip to SeaWorld. In a heavily edited satellite image, the one minute devoted to oil pollution depicts it as a delicate chocolate vein gliding through a crystalline background, almost as beautiful as the ocean itself. The directors’ preoccupation with natural beauty results in a disconnect from all environmental issues surrounding it — a disconnect so apparent that viewers emerging from the film would have no problem eating sushi afterward.
But then again, that’s what we’ve come to expect from Disney – safe, neutered and desexualized, but still completely and utterly magical.