***1/2 (out of 5)
April 22, 2009
James Earl Jones as NARRATOR
Directed by: Alastair Fothergill & Mark Linfield
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
The Walt Disney company has a rich history of wonderful nature documentaries with their films from the 1960s and 1970s. This year, the Mouse House is stepping back into that realm with the launch of their new distribution arm DisneyNature.
The inaugural film from DisneyNature is simply entitled “Earth,” telling the story of a gallery of creatures living in the wild of our world. Using footage re-edited from the BBC documentary series “Planet Earth,” “Earth” follows a polar bear and her cubs, an elephant herd and a humpback whale with her calf through the change of seasons.
Don’t let the fact that this film is re-edited from existing footage stop you from seeing it. What could only be seen until recently on the small screen is quite simply breathtaking on the large screen. Like other recent nature films like “The March of the Penguins,” “Arctic Tale” and “Deep Blue,” “Earth” is meant to be experienced in a theater.
While the story does follow the three animal families around the globe, it also gives us a peek at other characters in the animal kingdom. The film moves fast the supporting cast rather swiftly, but that doesn’t mean they don’t leave an impression.
Highlights of the supporting cast of animals are the birds of paradise from New Guinea, in particular a dancing bird that shows off for his mate. There’s also a wonderful diversion into the sea following a great white shark as it leaps from the ocean to dine on unlucky seals in the wild.
Like Disney’s nature films of the past, “Earth” is rated G and is relatively safe for all audiences. However, parents should realize that this is a film about the harsh realities of the natural world. There are several scenes involving predator and prey that might be a bit unnerving for the youngest of viewers.
Fortunately, the filmmakers cut away from any kill sequences before things get ugly or at all bloody. Still, you’ll want to be warned before you take your happy-go-lucky four-year-old to see the hungry cheetah take down a young antelope.
Released on Earth Day, two days early for the normal release schedule, “Earth” manages to keep out of the pulpit for much of the film. Sure, there’s a little bit of a message that creeps in when narrator James Earl Jones talks about the vanishing polar ice, but what do you expect from a film that’s called “Earth” that’s been released on Earth Day.
As the flagship for the budding DisneyNature banner, “Earth” gives me hope. This could mean a potential steady stream of National Geographic style documentaries for the theaters as the years roll by. Teased in the trailers before this film, we were treated to a glimpse at the next film from the studio arm, “Oceans,” which is expected to flow into theaters next Earth Day.
It may not be a story about talking dogs or computer generated toys, but “Earth” is a fine film that can be enjoyed by all the members of the family.