IF OTTER 501 were only about otters, it would be your favorite movie. From scenes of an orphaned baby otter clinging to its surrogate mother's chest to an older pair of otters lazily going in for a hug, you would be a heartless monster not to love it. Unfortunately, this quasi-documentary also contains humans. Specifically, one terrible actress who wastes a considerable portion of the film with video diary updates filled with fake emotions that she posts for her supposed "friends" on Facebook. The otters in Otter 501 are real; the girl is not.
The film follows this awkward Wisconsin marine biology student Katie (Katie Pofahl), who spends a summer in Monterey, California, where she finds Otter 501 (she's the 501st orphaned baby sea otter found in Monterey—SAD). Thus begins Katie's persistent nagging, which she shares via webcam, to be part of this rescued otter's life. Luckily for the viewers, she gets a volunteer position at the local aquarium and somehow weasels her way into filming everything it does. "Okay, so sea otters are pretty awesome," she says to her computer screen. Moving on.
Despite the fictional twist, the lengthily and close-up otter scenes manage to make Otter 501 incredibly worthwhile. The camerawork is excellent, catching beautiful underwater shots of the animals diving for food and capturing wild otters' exhilarating day-to-day activities (read: sleeping). At times, the film's an emotional rollercoaster. Let my notes explain: "Otters everywhere! OH NO GREAT WHITE SHARK."
While the film's message—to keep the California coast clean and healthy for the dwindling sea otter population—gets across, no credit can be given to the unnecessary actors. One shot of a mother otter with visible ribs, desperate to find food for her equally emaciated baby in the coastline full of contaminated prey, and you're sold. Come for the environmental degradation. Stay for the otters.