Disney Nature’s Earth arrives, fittingly, right in time for Earth Day. Though this exploration of the animal kingdom feels like Disney’s way of challenging the celebrated, 12-hour documentary Planet Earth, it’s far shorter and more accessible and is more analogous to March of the Penguins or Winged Migration. It covers the areas on the globe that we tend to overlook—like the spaces between Africa and Antarctica—and offers close-up views of the creatures that inhabit these extraordinary landscapes. Those fearing another heavy-handed statement about global warming can relax: the few comments made about climate change are subtle but informative.
Sometimes when I’m at the zoo, watching the creatures frolic, a random idiot standing next to me will feel the need to provide the animals with dialogue. I’ll be watching a lion in his cage when I suddenly hear “I’m really hungry” or “I’m stinky, I need a bath!” from some lady close by, trying to keep her kids entertained. The narration in Earth is like that lady at the zoo. The producers couldn’t have picked a better narrator than James Earl Jones, who could easily have been credited here as The Voice of God. The problem is that Jones’s dialogue is really corny and far cheesier than anything he ever uttered as Darth Vader. Despite Jones’s booming baritone, the narration dumbs down the mysterious, sometimes unexplainable lives of wild animals. Thankfully, this is the sole flaw of this otherwise marvelous documentary.
The imagery is astonishing and will mesmerize audiences of all ages. It captures sights and events so awe-inspiring, they must be seen on the big screen. A bird’s eye view of a lion relentlessly chasing a caribou is thrilling, as are the dizzying shots above seemingly bottomless cliffs and waterfalls. There are also haunting scenes involving what Jones refers to as “The Circle of Life” (in a knowing nod to another Disney movie). One features a Polar bear making a desperate attempt to stay alive and another a nighttime attack on an elephant by a group of hungry lions. Some of this plays like When Animals Attack…Each Other! but this is a G-rated film and you never see any real bloodshed.
Watching this, you’ll often have the sensation that you’re floating across these beautiful landscapes and could brush the treetops with your feet. You’ll see how the filmmakers pulled off the gravity-defying cinematography in the end credits, an amusing montage of outtakes where the camera crew, frequently flying in a hot air balloon, crashes into a tree and gets a little too close to its carnivorous subjects.
Distracting narration aside, this film delivers a big-time “wow” factor and leaves you with the stunning realization that all of this is happening, somewhere in the world, right now. MTW