Would anyone have the same fond memories of the original Fantasia if its groundbreaking animation was set to a hypnotically droning voice talking about how deeply impressed everyone should be with the visuals? Viewers would still be watching the same gorgeous drawings, but being repeatedly ordered to marvel would get tiresome fast. It certainly does in Oceans, the latest film from the DisneyNature imprint, following 2009’s Planet Earth re-edit Earth. The French-produced Oceans, directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, features the same sorts of stunning animal footage that graced the directors’ previous nature doc, Winged Migration, but it comes to American theaters saddled with narration by Pierce Brosnan, who purrs through the gratingly vague script like the world’s plummiest old half-drunken uncle.
In spite of its vaguely soporific qualities, that voice track serves as a constant distraction without actually contributing anything. It only rarely tells viewers what they’re seeing, or where the footage was filmed; rarer still are any solid facts about the amazing creatures onscreen. Instead, Brosnan is made to mouth vaguely poetic sentiments about the sea “smiling at the sky,” and feeding us “body and soul.” Worse, the script often doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. Sentences like “Merely knowing these creatures exist isn’t enough to tell the stories of their lives” and “The ocean is an ancient place, but it is more than just a place. In a very real way, the ocean is alive” sound as though they were written by someone cataclysmically stoned after an hour of slack-jawed staring at the beautiful sequences of the blanket octopus or the ribbon eel. Much of the narration could be summed up as “Like, whoa, man, the sea, you know? Deep. Deep!”
Narration aside, Oceans is a fairly standard IMAX-ready nature documentary of the type without narrative or linear throughline: It’s just an assemblage of amazing sequences, in which killer whales lunge onto land to snatch their prey, clownfish cavort among sea anemones, a fish hitches a ride inside a shark’s gills, and a wide variety of fish, crustaceans, and mammals hunt, eat, rest, and play. Occasionally, Brosnan shuts up during a particularly breathtaking sequence, as when dolphins, sharks, whales, and birds unite to cut apart a massive school of sardines. Then, Oceans is far more astounding than it is when Brosnan is reminding us to be astounded. “Maybe instead of asking what exactly is the ocean,” Brosnan concludes, “we should be asking who exactly are we.” Uh-huh. Or maybe we should be hushing up and not trying to force meaning on the gorgeous footage that’s far more meaningful without all the windy chatter.