In the 1940s, The Walt Disney Company began to make full-length documentaries featuring nature as its subject. These films were billed under the title of Disney True-Life Adventures, and they won several Academy Awards for the studio.
Now, 60 years later, Disney is heading back to nature for a new series of films called DisneyNature films. Last year, the first of these films was released on Earth Day 2009, and that movie was Earth. Though the movie has been out on DVD for a while, I decided to finally sit down and watch it.
Earth opens with a stunning view of our planet from outer space. This first shot sets the scene for the rest of the movie, which is truly huge in scope. The movie chronicles everything from the thrilling chase of a caribou by a wolf, crane migration in the Himalayas and a slow-motion great white shark attack.
But the three main creatures the filmmakers follow in Earth are a family of humpback whales, a polar bear father on the quest for food and a herd of elephants making a long migration. Each story is told with surprising care and accompanied with stunning footage.
The man leading us on our journey is none other than the voice of Mufassa himself, James Earl Jones. Scenes of the African landscape are particularly moving when accompanied by Jones’ voice, but maybe that’s just the nostalgia of my Lion King days.
Some scenes in Earth might look familiar to viewers. The same filmmaking team behind the BBC/Discovery Channel series Planet Earth created the movie, so naturally some of the footage is similar. Regardless, the stories and scenes displayed in Earth are amazing.
One of the true highlights of the movie is the musical score from George Fenton, who also crafted the music for the Planet Earth series. His music is epic, and it definitely brought out the music geek in me. The soundtrack was an instant addition to my Wish List on iTunes.
Though the film is captivating, it does have its flaws. It seems that Disney was so intent on keeping this movie squeaky-clean and family friendly that it shows almost none of the harsh realities of the animal kingdom. Each time an animal gets ready to pounce on its prey, the camera conveniently cuts away. More graphic images have probably been seen in an issue of National Geographic Kids. This movie is about as G-rated as you can get.
Minor flaws aside, Earth is a great movie for anyone looking for an informative documentary, or even just a flat-out entertaining adventure. I wanted even more after it ended.
DisneyNature is giving its audiences just that with one new documentary film each year. Oceans was released last month on Earth Day and the film African Cats will hit theaters Earth Day 2011. Other future movies include The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos, Hidden Beauty: A Love Story that Feeds the Earth and Chimpanzee.