For its mild reality-TV pretensions, Morning Light functions mostly as a love letter from producer Roy Disney to the sport of offshore sailing. It revolves around arguably the sport's most thrilling race, the Transpac, which has mind-bogglingly speed-tweaked and overengineered sail boats racing from Los Angeles to a marker just off the coast of Oahu. It should take about a week of continuous 24-hour sailing downwind in reliably stiff breeze. For a Disney movie targeted at an ADD population, it's the most exciting sailing event to document.
It's also the one with which Disney has a history. In 1999 and 2000, he and his crew won the Transpac, lowering the race time on each occasion. Disney, a 30-year sailing veteran, also holds and has held a number of Los Angeles-to-Hawaii speed records. His interest in this race is far more than kindly old corporate benefactor, yet Light isn't a vanity project. The documentary was proposed to Disney by the head of the TP52 Class Association's (the type of boat) director, Tom Pollock.
While Disney actually participated in the race documented here in a different boat, it's never mentioned. The stars are 15 college-age sailors, potentially the youngest crew to complete the race, selected from more than 500 applicants to a six-monthlong training course to race the Transpac on the Disney-owned Morning Light.
A half-year of 15 strangers living together and training for and racing in a week-long race is a wealth to document, probably more suited for a television series. Add to it a vague subplot about a rival boat and explaining some of sailing's nuts and bolts to a mass audience, that Light is even coherent is a marvel of editing.
Even so, there are some gaps in the story. Some moments feel contrived and hokey, as when four of the 15 don't make the final cut. You don't really know or care about them enough to share in the on-screen emotion.
But Morning Light does many things right, especially the stunning sailing shots. This is top-quality outdoor sports porn. A fifty-foot sailboat slicing through waves in the middle of the Pacific at close to 30 mph is a sight to behold, and as in one of co-director Paul Crowder's other movies, Riding Giants, it's easy to grasp the thrill. And by the time the documentary's too brief 90 minutes are up, it's easy to understand Roy Disney's obsession with it.