Disneynature Earth Day release
is a sight to behold, but has
a badly over-written script
and droning narration
Cue the violins: It’s dinnertime
The movie is being hyped as the epic journeys of three families across the planet, but Disneynature’s “earth” – timed for theatrical release on Earth Day -- is really an update of the stuff that old Walt himself was pushing back in the 1950s when color television was being introduced as the latest in technology.
Inspiring, well-filmed stories of wild animals, with a droning narrator. Time-lapse photography of flowers blooming. We’ve seen that before, although I readily acknowledge the old Wonderful World of Disney productions are rudimentary stuff when compared to “earth.”
Trouble is, the new film for all its terrific spectacle has been weighed down with not only the droning narration of those TV days of yesteryear but an over-written script and jumbled story lines that the voice of James Earl Jones cannot save from mediocrity. (James Earl Jones? Very suave, very mellow, but he’s even disappeared from the Verizon ads!)
Now I have nothing against cute baby polar bears climbing out of their ice-hole den as spring comes to the Arctic, and playfully exploring the white wilderness while their mother tries to shepherd them toward the sea. So very, very cute, and so wonderfully filmed.
Meanwhile, daddy polar bear has gone far ahead in a desperate trek to find food as his world shrinks to global warming. By the time he finds something to eat, it’s a baby walrus whose colony keeps the big white predator at bay on an ice shelf. Poor papa polar bear is too weak to go on, and so the movie crew leaves him – returning us to the growing, thriving cubs who, we are assured, will carry on with his spirit in their hearts.
Yup. James Earl Jones really tells us that.
You’d like to think the photo crew up in the helicopter could have thrown a few fish to Papa Bear before leaving.
The other main story lines feature a herd of African elephants in their trek across a barren Kalahari Desert to reach the lush delta where water and food will be found, and mother-and-child humpback whales swimming thousands of miles to their Southern Ocean summer feeding waters.
But that wasn’t enough. As we are shuttled back and forth between the animal families to check on their progress, it seems there was some footage of enormously entertaining monkeys fording a river, so that gets thrown in, along with various other creatures. (I’ll allow, however, the giant shark rising out of the ocean devouring a whole seal in its horrifying maw.)
We also get to see in breathtaking time-lapse imagery entire forests change in color with the seasons. There are some terrific sunsets, too.
But the violins in the orchestral accompaniment are as unrelenting as the voice of Mr. Jones, and a solomn strings theme warns us when it appears an animal being chased down as prey is about to be killed and eaten by critters higher up the food chain. A pack of lions chases and jumps, biting, onto the back of an elephant fleeing in the near-darkness. (So that jungle cat-and-elephant circus act really is natural behavior!)
Cue the violins. Time for the Darwin theme. Elephant sushi is on the menu. The lions eat tonight.
I hate to criticize a movie that probably was conceived as well-meaning.
I cannot praise the photography enough. It is cutting-edge amazing. I kept wondering how the incredible scenes in “earth” could have been captured.
Patience was rewarded. Scenes showing how share the screen as the credits are rolling.
So don’t get up and leave too soon. You might miss some of the best moments that “earth” has to offer. You can also check them out at greater length online at http://disney.go.com/disneynature/earth, including the weeks of determined labor to capture with a high-speed camera that giant shark breaching the water with a seal in its teeth.
The photographers get four stars, and all the thumbs-up I can muster. It’s such a shame that the script and editing let them down.