Only The Beatles' Yellow Submarine (1968) equals The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou for brilliant, psychedelic surrealism. Bill Murray lends a sobering edge to Wes Anderson's vividly imagined tale of a washed-up oceanographer hunting a mythical shark while struggling to make a human connection with his long-lost son Ned (Owen Wilson). Although the balance of comedy and drama is sometimes knocked off kilter, it's impossible to avoid getting swept up in the romance and sheer whimsy of it all.
Using stop-motion animation, Anderson invents all manner of weird and wonderful marine life from candy-coloured sugar crabs to crayon pony fish, but it's the fearsome jaguar shark that Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is obsessed with. Having witnessed the fanged fishy devour his best friend, he's bent on revenge. But bringing Ned on the expedition only complicates matters, especially as they both have an eye for enigmatic journalist Jane (Cate Blanchett) who's writing a feature article on Zissou.
A hilariously doltish Willem Dafoe is also part of the motley crew of the Belafonte, a rust bucket that comes complete with Swedish sauna and a strangely familiar yellow submarine. It's part of a seductive fantasy world where poignant human drama unfolds. Murray is delightfully deadpan with a tragic twist, so that as he bops to smooth electronica - piped into his diving helmet for relaxation - you can't help but laugh and feel sorry for him all at once. Towards the end, Anderson plumbs a little too deep for dramatic pathos and nearly capsizes the ship, but for the most part The Life Aquatic will have you gleefully immersed.