DVD REVIEW: BACK TO THE SEA / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: THOM LU / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: YURI LOWENTHAL, KATH SOUCIE, TOM KENNY, TIM CURRY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Have you heard of the Chinese animated family feature entitled Back to the Sea, which is about Kevin, a young flying fish, who lives in New York harbour? You know the one: he dreams of leading his family to Barbados – the mythical kingdom of the flying fish. Then one fateful day his adventurous nature finds him captured in a trawler's net and delivered to the fish tank of a famous restaurant in New York city's Chinatown, where he meets a quiet young boy who also longs for excitement and adventure. The two become fast friends and begin a daring quest to get Kevin back home to the sea.
Ring any bells? No? Don't feel bad, as the film did have a very limited release in North America back in 2012, and it's not hard to understand why. But where to begin? Well, it's an animated film, so the animation is as good a place to start as any. Remember the '90s cartoon Spider-Man series that mixed early CG with traditional animation? As great as the show was then, it seems quite dated now, and that gives you an idea of how Back to the Sea looks.
Then there's the story. What do ParaNorman, Monster House, Frankenweenie, Toy Story (pick a film, any film) have in common? A good story that engages the viewer, and characters that you care about. Take Up for example. That arguably has one of the most heartbreaking scenes in cinematic history within the first thirty minutes or so.
Unfortunately this isn't the case with Back to the Sea. Here the characters are dull and insipid and as two-dimensional as the cells that they've been drawn on. It would be unfair to say that this movie doesn't have a story, it's just that it's very similar to both Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, with a smattering of The Goonies, a soupçon of Mission: Impossible and a sprinkling of Ocean's 11. Now, perhaps director and co-writer Thom Lu is a fan of the aforementioned movies, but what we have with Back to the Sea is a greatest hits selection of scenes that seem to have been lifted wholesale and then shoehorned into the main narrative rather than served up as a knowing homage.
Even some decent vocal talent – including Tim Curry and that magician of many voices, Mark Hamill – cannot animate this moribund tale. Indeed Back to the Sea failed to engage its target audience as my three-year-old son went off to do something more interesting and my six-year-old asked if he could watch Scooby-Doo instead halfway through.