I love sailing and am fascinated by long-distance sailing and I think that sailing races have spun some of the most coveted sailor's yarn out there, like the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race and, of course, the TransPac. The concept of the Morning Light "documentary", thus, sounded intriguing to me - put together a crew of kids in their early twenties, give them a powerhouse of a boat and let them compete in this classic open water race against all the old sea salts.
Of course, the fact that this is a Disney movie waters down the expectations of "documentary" elements, and, true to Disney's reputation, the worst you will see (or much rather: hear) is somebody getting seasick off camera. No cursing, no fights, no frustration, no egos competing. Just a bunch of happy twens in a friendly competition. To distract from the voids of this obviously edited-out content, Disney uses high-def cameras and high-tech editing to create those "stunning visuals" that everybody appears to seek in a sailing movie. However, Disney pushed too hard for my taste - more often than not the result looks overedited at best and some scenes look outright cheap. The pinnacle of fake-ness are the night sailing scenes "under the stars", that, of course, include the mandatory shooting star across the sky. If I want to see "canned atmosphere" like that I watch a cartoon - there at least I don't have to wonder about the degree of "reality" in all the other scenes.
For some reason, Disney also decided to take out pretty much everything that would have made this kind of venture interesting for me: The crew selection process is depicted like a happy pool party. The training process appears to be a couple of days of jolly sailing with some of the world's best sailors, but we don't hear anything about the instructions they give. The skills needed to compete in the TransPac are not mentioned anywhere. Different crew members are caled "highly talented sailors" all the time, but we don't get to find out what actually makes a good sailor other than winching a sheet, looking at a screen with weather and maps and turning the boat's wheel.
Long distance races are won and lost by the tactical decisions made in the process and this race is no exception. The crew for some odd reason decided to go north instead of south around a high pressure area. Unfortunately, we hear nothing baout why they made this, or any, tactical decision. LAter during the race, an almost identical boat was able to overtake them. What was the mistake they made? What did they learn from that? All these questions go unanswered as well as the question of how the crew reflected on the race afterwards other than in empty buzzwords. There would obviously have been a lot to explore here, especially since from the beginning there were more kids on board than were finally selected to crew and the skipper was only "elected" at the end of the training period. All of these elements are so heavily glossed over, though, that it led me to regret having spent the time watching it.
On another note: the soundtrack is just ridiculous. Disney apparently thought it highly original to underlay a softened pop-rock that sounds like a leftover from the early nineties being recycled, and, as subtle as a tank, to modulate the beat with the wind or boat speed. This might have been cutting edge twenty years ago, but these days it just adds to the feeling of cheapness in this movie.
In the end you will have seen some highly polished visuals of high tech sailboats in fair weather conditions, you will have seen someone winching a sheet about a hundred times, which apparently metaphorizes "sailing" for Disney, and you will be sick of hearing some of the more spoiled crew members about having to spend ten days without gourmet food, video games, and movies, instead of realizing and taking advantage of the fantastic opportunity and privilege they have been given. You will also have heard Walt Disney tell you a felt 2000 times about how this race changed his life, but you will be left to wonder about the "how" and "in which way". To me this movie was a great disappointment: what could have been a great documentary about a fantastic sailing experience ended up being an empty shell, the vaccum of which the images and the soundtrack were not able to fill.
If you're looking for more "reality" in a documentary about long-distance sail racing, maybe something like "Deep Water" might be the better choice. If you're looking for a very "light" movie, where everything is "fairy-tale harmonious" and sailing is "fun", where you can leave for 30 minutes or turn off the volume without missing anything, then you might enjoy this one.