Morning Light’s Squeaky Clean Disney Agenda


Two unnerving phenomena—the popularity of reality-TV competitions and the Walt Disney Company’s ability to churn out entertainment starring the most squeaky-clean humans on earth—come together in Morning Light, a nightmarishly upbeat documentary about a group of young people who face off with the world’s best sailors in a 2,500-mile boat race from Long Beach to Hawaii. Under the watchful eye of Disney exec Roy E. Disney, 15 hand-selected college-aged seafarers train for the annual Transpacific Yacht Race, eventually deciding among themselves who will make up the final crew of 11. The movie’s first half consists of typical America’s Next Top Model–type rigmarole where we’re forced to hear every contestant’s backstory—although here, no one’s a closet lesbian or anorexic. Once the crew is selected, things improve somewhat, as director Mark Monroe shifts his attention to the race, treating the audience to one gorgeous panoramic shot of the Pacific Ocean after another. But no matter how many times these young adults insist that this grueling competition is changing their lives, Morning Light strenuously ignores the obvious emotional and physical toll, playing up the gosh-darn fun factor until the participants feel like cogs in the film’s inspiration machine. These kids survive their adventure on the high seas, but escaping the powerful Disney agenda is another matter entirely.