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Nature Calls

This water is deep on thrills and shallow on education.

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Disney sure knows how to title its nature films. “Oceans” sounds like it covers everything, much as the studio's previous release, “Earth,” sounded like it was going to lay bare the entire world. Like “Earth,” however, “Oceans” is pretty but shallow. During the film's speedy run we learn almost nothing about the oceans except what some of the things in it look like. But we sure get a good look.

The movie opens with a little boy on the shore, pondering the great swells before him, at which point it dives into its deep-sea adventure, hardly coming up for breath as we're whisked along with porpoises, whales and sharks. We lie in wait on the ocean floor with bottom-dwelling predators and scamper along quietly with their prey.

Unlike “Earth,” “Oceans” offers original and thrilling documentary footage. Its pioneering shots of aquatic life are some of the best ever captured — so awe-inspiring they almost make up for all the film's deficiencies. In one early scene a group of sardines swarms in great shimmering globes while hungry predators converge in a multispecies feeding frenzy. Dolphins zip and sharks lunge, whales gulp and dozens of birds machine-gun the foamy surface. It's the “Saving Private Ryan” of nature footage. But where are we? How did all those creatures come to be there? “Oceans,” narrated by Pierce Brosnan, talks a lot but never tells us much.

Perhaps there will be extra footage included in future home-theater releases, but Disney's attempt to attach environmental significance — the movie was released on Earth Day and the studio is donating 20 cents per ticket to marine projects — is also feeble. There are segments of the film devoted to pollution and overfishing, but they're short and vague, almost perfunctory and unlikely to cause much anxiety for any corporations.

“Oceans” begins and ends with the importance of education, but its big blue middle is pure entertainment. (G) 100 min. HHHII

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