All babies are adorable. Whether they walk on two legs or four, have fur all over, or wings, tusks or even a blow hole, there is something irresistible about the young of any species. The makers of the new Disney film Earth know this and the cute factor of this natural history documentary is dialed way up. Of course there is a strong environmental message mixed into the story of the migration paths of four animal families but my guess is kids will walk away with visions of baby polar bears dancing in their heads rather than concern about global warming.
Earth is a condensed version of the BBC series Planet Earth, a ninety minute trek from pole to pole. Shot over 4,500 days in 200 locations around the globe the combined budget of the television show and the movie is upwards of $40 million, making it the most expensive documentary ever, and every dime of it is on the screen. It’s a visually spectacular feast for the eyes. Beautiful time lapse photography and stunning aerial shots of Mount Everest are pure eye candy, but it is the intimate and thrilling shots of the animals that are truly memorable. From baby polar bears shakily taking their first steps to the preening, exotic Bird of Paradise and the spectacular humpback whale and calf hunting for plankton, the film gets us up close and personal with these creatures.
These images speak for themselves and as such don’t need the clumsy and overly simplistic narration. Voiced with booming gravitas by James Earl Jones (there are different narrators for different countries, including Patrick Stewart) the voice over is repetitive and lacks any new information or insight. Maybe bring an iPod and just enjoy the pictures.
Earth is a Disney release, so it is family friendly, but there are a couple of scenes involving the cruel realities of the animal kingdom that may be too intense for very young viewers. One little girl—maybe just three or four years old—at the screening I saw yelled, “Why! Daddy! Why!” during a scene where a wolf tracks and captures a caribou calf. It’s bloodless, the camera cuts away before nature really takes its toll, but is scary nonetheless.
Earth is a beautifully made film that errs on the side of cutesy a bit too often, but is a splendid experience nonetheless.