Thu, Apr 23, 2009 (midnight)
The people behind the BBC documentary series Planet Earth (which aired in the U.S. on the Discovery Channel) team up with Disney for Earth, the first movie under the studio’s new Disneynature brand. A sweeping, generic wildlife film, Earth features a few passing mentions of global warming but otherwise focuses on the same things as every other nature documentary since the form was invented: predators and prey, migration, harsh climates and cuteness. That last factor, of course, is key in a Disney movie, which is all about anthropomorphizing the animals so that they’re only about two degrees removed from cartoon characters. So we get baby birds trying to fly, baby polar bears sliding down snow banks and baby elephants accidentally bumping into stuff.
We also get a bit of the violence of the animal kingdom, but it’s all bloodless and mostly left off-screen (the movie is rated G, after all). James Earl Jones narrates in his best James Earl Jones voice, and the filmmakers manage to capture some pretty amazing shots (and make good use of impressive time-lapse photography). But in focusing so broadly, constantly switching from one region and species to another, they lose the chance to impart anything more than basic information, and the movie feels like a thin introduction rather than a rich tapestry.
The most fascinating part, actually, is the closing-credits sequence that shows the work involved in getting the natural world on film. Knowing what these documentarians went through makes it easy to appreciate even the most sanitized results of their efforts.