Three Out of Five Stars
Rated G/100 min.

A friend gave my wife and I passes to the Maui Ocean Center a few years back and, among the many beautiful things to see there, I was most taken with the jellyfish. Encased in a tube and bathed in purple lighting, I found staring at those squishy wonders to be soothing and hypnotic. I had a similar experience watching Oceans, the new Disney Nature documentary hitting theaters in time for Earth Day. Last year’s Earth was gorgeous but clearly a shorter, Disneyfied take on the epic-length Planet Earth mini-series. This year’s serious-minded documentary from the Mouse House is wilder and weirder, since the focus is on the world beneath the ocean and the beautiful, eerie creatures that dwell there.

Pierce Brosnan’s offers his gentle voice in the service of some uninspired, downright clunky dialogue. (It’s the same problem that plagued Earth, when even James Earl Jones couldn’t save his stilted lines.) The first hour is dedicated to showcasing familiar creatures in their day-to-day struggle and the sights are amazing. We get hordes of birds shooting into the water like missiles in search of food, while hungry sharks circle below; the scene feels so much like an aerial dogfight, I was half expecting Kenny Loggins’s Danger Zone to come blaring on the soundtrack.

There’s the remarkable journey of baby sea turtles, born with dozens of kin sprouting out of eggs and piling up on the beach, only to have their first crawl towards the ocean interrupted by hungry sea birds. There’s the ocean-floor battle between hundreds of crabs that looks like something out of a science fiction film. Once again, the camerawork gives viewers the impression that we’re gliding or floating right next to the action and the cinematography is so crisp, you may sometimes forget the drama is taking place underwater.

The editing and sound effects make you feel the spritz of the waves crashing down (in 2-D, no less!). On the other hand, some of the sound effects seem added rather than captured—pay attention to a battle between a large shrimp and an angry crab and you’ll hear a “whoosh” out of a kung fu movie.

The latter half of the film takes place in the arctic wild, showcasing otters, sea lions and, yes, the cinematically over-exposed penguins. The familiarity of this portion, which has been captured and portrayed in too many movies, made me restless. Kids will probably love every minute of it, while their parents will be all too aware of the vaguely political messages that aren’t heavy-handed but still obvious.

Late in the film, there’s a scene where a diver swims right up to a shark and all but hugs it, as Brosnan drones on about how this fearsome creature is misunderstood, friendly and welcomes a human companion. It may be the bogus movie moment of the year. Seriously kids, the “Fish Are Friends” message is fine, but if you encounter a shark, paddle your okole outta there!