by Richard von Busack
Look at Oceans Disneynature as some recompense for that snorkeling trip to Molokini you won’t be making this year, thanks to the boys at Goldman Sachs. The lack of narrative thrust and useful informational tidbits are a downside—the creatures swimming by are sometimes identified, sometimes not. They’re arranged for cuteness, color and shape, rather than districts of the ocean, as in the sturdy zonal structure of Disney’s Earth.
Since it is so episodic, the real tension of the film becomes the question of how much bad news the children are going to be allowed to hear, regarding the state of the oceans. The answer to that is “not much.” About three minutes, if that; the ravages of the purse seine and the plastic gyre are touched upon…but it’s going to be all right, kids!
Pierce Brosnan narrates the English language version. He’s a roguish funny actor and a man concerned with ecological affairs, but it’s not his light, if pleasing, voice that makes him famous. The ocean is usually described as having a female principle—perhaps this was the job for Streep, Dench or a Blanchett?
Bruno Coulais—the rising composer whose work was key to the success of Secret of Kells and Coraline, is adept with musical scoring for the grandeur of a blue whale drifting by—a shot that resembles the cruise of the endless space battleship in the first Star Wars: the organ is never too heavy and the harp is never too light. But for the film’s most op-art moments, such as striped ribbon snakes and strobe-lit cuttlefish, one wishes the old ways of marijuana brownie and an iPod loaded with Pink Floyd.
And you’ll want to miss most of the text; the anthropomorphic angle is heavy, because this is Disney. Oceans undercuts its best ideas. In one sequence, for example, iguanas and horseshoe crabs rest in the swamp, watching a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. It’s an intelligent contrast of the Age of Man with oceanic creatures with very long pedigrees.
But then comes the reverse angle, an optical print on the rocket’s flare on the iguana’s eye, turning a fine metaphor into a moment that says “What can these creatures be thinking of the might of our flaming rockets?”
The same blocked metaphors are over the script: the ancient wisdom of a sheepshead wrasse, the smoochiness of a walrus; and, most dunderheaded: the smiling face of our friend the Great White Shark. Jaws has his place and a certain rough attractiveness, but really, what’s he got to smile about?
Oceans’ cuteness is, you know, for the kids; it’s moments to clutch like a blanket when seeing the bottomless appetite under water: a horror-sequence of a school of sardines under Scud attack by plummeting cormorants, with sharks taking up the flanks.
Frigate birds picking off a beachful of baby tortoises as if they were kernels of popcorn (a sequence used in Mondo Cane to show that the world was going to the dogs; the editing there, however, was nothing this brutal and crunchy). There’s a vicious crab/langouste bout that’s as bad as any street fight. And most inexplicable, a weird swarm of crabs in what’s identified as Melbourne Bay (though it’s actually Port Philip Bay) that looks like the battle scene in a Lord of the Rings movie.
Whether this was a mystery, a result of something ecologically averse, or an opportunity for the world’s largest crab cake—Oceans' “your guess is as good as mine” approach is the inevitable result of adding sugar to all that salt water.