Viva Pictures // 2012 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // February 17th, 2013
Filled with laughs, action and heart.
When a young fish named Kevin defies his father's orders and ventures into dangerous waters, he winds up being caught by fishermen and taken far from his home. Eventually ending up in New York City, Kevin finds his new home -- a small aquarium in a Chinese restaurant -- less than desirable, and so begins plotting his escape. Kevin is aided in his quest by the lonely young son of the restaurant owner, but when a small-time crook sets his sights on the establishment, their plans are thrown into disarray.
While Pixar's crown may have slipped a little in light of recent, less inspired offerings (such as the decidedly lackluster Cars 2), rival studios would be wise to avoid drawing comparisons to any of their crown jewels -- especially the underwater charmer Finding Nemo. This is something writer-director Thom Lu does with his debut film, Back to the Sea, which sticks far too close to the Nemo formula to have any chance of standing out.
Seemingly aware of the Finding Nemo similarities, Back to the Sea features a prominent subplot involving the young boy who befriends Kevin. Unfortunately it won't just be the adults watching that find this particular plot thread tends to drag, as it becomes weighed down in a father/son relationship that sees the film's pacing drop significantly. It's unlikely young children will be enthralled by these sequences. At least when the film centers on Kevin and his attempts to get back to his home, it has some focus, and offers child-friendly entertainment. Kevin is no Nemo, but his feistiness makes him a character that children will find appealing. Still, even they will find the unfolding events just a little too familiar. You can throw as many subplots at it as you like, but there's no denying the central storyline is a blatant attempt at aping Finding Nemo.
What will initially draw the most attention to Back to the Sea is the voice cast, which includes Christian Slater (True Romance), Tim Curry (Legend), and Mark Hamill (Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi). Okay, so none of these actors is at the peak of his popularity, but they are still more than capable performers with each having delivered some memorable turns. Here, however, things just don't work out. Slater's performance is decidedly nondescript, while Hamill simply recycles his Joker voice to much less effect. Then there's Tim Curry. Allegedly. I say that as I've no idea which character he provides the voice for, with even IMDb seemingly just as nonplussed.
The film employs traditional 2D animation with a little CGI assistance. The result is never unattractive, and though character designs may lack imagination, they will certainly appeal to the film's target audience. Still, there's no escaping the fact that Back to the Sea is a direct-to-video title, and lacks the sparkle of a Pixar effort. Sure, comparing a low-budget animation to a big-budget Pixar release is wholly unfair, but then the filmmakers have brought such comparisons on themselves by copying so many ideas.
The DVD release of Back to the Sea features a nice-looking 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Colors are reasonably strong, if lacking the vibrancy some of its peers possess, and the picture is sharp. The 5.1 soundtrack is unremarkable, but delivers clean dialogue throughout. No extras are included on this release.
There's no escaping the shadow that Pixar's film casts over Back to the Sea. While watching it I couldn't help but think how much more fun I'd be having if I were watching that instead. Still, Back to the Sea does do just enough to keep young children entertained for its 96-minute duration, but -- if my own two boys are anything to go by -- repeat viewings will be in low demand.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Viva Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG