Another Earth Day, another remonkeyed nature documentary from Disney. But where last year’s Earth was whittled down from hours of footage from the BBC’s Planet Earth series, Oceans is instead a direct translation of an already existing documentary by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, the guys behind Winged Migration (2001).
That Oceans is more focused than the cropped-and-chopped Earth is no shocker. The basic point of Perrin and Cluzaud’s film is to educate younger viewers about the wild, surprising and strange world that exists beneath the ocean’s surface. Sure, in this day and age, the film’s occasional environmentalist bent is a prerequisite, but it’s never preachy or heavy-handed. Really, it’s more surprising how little the film dwells on pollution and changing ecosystems, mentioning them only in passing here and there.
None of this, however, is the real point of the film. The real attraction is Perrin and Cluzaud’s apparent fascination with nature. Every creature in the film is exquisitely photographed, giving Oceans its majestic, beautiful, graceful—and just plain neat-looking—cinematography. Perrin and Cluzaud aren’t simply content with documenting nature; instead, they approach their subjects like narrative filmmakers might, creating something genuinely cinematic. A fight between a crab and a shrimp becomes dynamic when cut together like an action scene, while a group of newborn sea turtles being terrorized by seagulls owes a debt to Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).
If you go into Oceans expecting to be educated, you’ll likely be disappointed. The film as educational tract doesn’t really cover new ground. Rather, it exists as a cinematic treat, and taken as that and nothing more, it’s pretty striking and engaging. Rated G.