“Come join Pup and Julius on a fun-filled adventure to a place filled with colorful characters and unending mystery-land!”
Sea Level was a third of the way through and I still had no clue what was going on. Here’s what I was able to glean from the four main threads to the tail (ha!) of Sea Level.
Thread One: Pup the bamboo shark (voiced by Diong Chae Lian) wants to go on land and rescue shark eggs from the human poachers he was unable to stop due to his small size.
Thread Two: Murray the Moray eel (Mike Swift) is planning some kind of revolt involving darkness covering the ocean, which has something to do with the pollution coming from an adjacent industrial plant.
Thread Three: Octo the octopus (Kennie Dowle) dreams of building a spaceship to carry him away from Julius (Gavin Yap) the great white shark who eats the rest of the ocean’s inhabitants.
Thread Four: Julius the shark, best friend of Pup, is oblivious to the fact that his nature is scaring everyone but a select few away. All he’s concerned with is his next meal.
That’s a lot of things for an adult to keep track of, never mind a little kid with the attention span of a teaspoon. But all these threads come together (sort of) when Sting the manta ray (Jay Sheldon) makes sure Pup learns the secret no one wanted him to know — he can breathe on land as well as under water. Armed with that knowledge and nothing else, Pup finds the eggs but then becomes trapped with no way out, which means Julius, Octo, and Mertle the Turtle (Christina Orow) band together to stage a rescue. Which they do, and the eggs hatch.
In the process, the industrial plant is temporarily bombed which somehow sidelines Murray’s coup. Although we have no idea how the pollution was really helping him take over the ocean. Seems like it would kill him. In the end, two of the four main threads are completely dropped without resolution.
The main problem with Sea Level is its runtime. At 92 minutes, it does not move nearly quick enough to justify its existence. I can’t imagine little ones having the patience to sit through this movie. It’s clear the creative team was inspired by Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid, as some of the characters bear more than a passing resemblance to their Disney/Pixar peers. But it backfires in that it made me want to shut this off and watch either of those films instead.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen is definitely not up to Pixar standards. There’s a weird aura of light around each of these sea creatures that remains consistent despite changing light conditions of the environment. The humans lack photorealism, which will probably be more of a problem for you than your kids. The palette is a rich consistent tone of near jewel-like colors, but consistency isn’t warranted in these two differing worlds of land and sea. I was surprised to find Sea Level sporting a Dolby 5.1 Surround mix, especially since the soundtrack is rather uneven, beginning with an obviously Asian-influenced theme and ending on a rather folksy note.
Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes featurette on the animation process (did you know the film is titled SeeFood in other countries?). We also get a neat look at concept art and character sculptures through image galleries, and a trailer gallery.
In the end, Sea Level tries to do too much, attempting to deal with the lesson of being perfect the way you are, the pollution of the ocean, the meaning of family, and what it means to be a friend. Skip this offering and find another enchanted fish or mermaid to spend time with.