It’s conceivable that “Otter 501,” which traces the real-life progress of an orphaned sea otter pup at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium through the p.o.v. of a fictional volunteer at the facility, could serve some useful purpose as an educational tool for middle-schoolers learning about biology or ecology. But this ponderously paced mashup of painfully sincere drama and beautifully lensed documentary won’t survive very long in the theatrical wilderness, and will have to rely on exposure in ancillary streams to avoid quick and total extinction.
In an ill-considered attempt to bring a human touch to a wildlife doc, the pic is loosely structured as a series of Facebook video posts by the volunteer, who’s played — with more enthusiasm than ability — by Katie Pofahl, a freshwater biologist who shouldn’t quit her day job. Pofahl’s breathlessly chipper narration sounds like the spiel of a schoolteacher desperately eager to grab the attention of slow learners (“The ocean can really mess you up if you turn your back!”). But the pic’s strikingly attractive visuals suggest the volunteer had state-of-the-art camera technology, and an animation studio of some sort, at her disposal.