Nature stars in Disney's impressive "Earth"
Disney's nature documentary "Earth" is beautiful and — in the way of the wild world — at times frightening. James Earl Jones narrates.
Seattle Times movie critic
"Earth," a documentary narrated by James Earl Jones and directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. 90 minutes. Rated G. Several theaters.
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Narrated with sonorous majesty by James Earl Jones, Disney's rather generically titled nature documentary "Earth" flies us around the planet, finding wonders at every turn.
In New Guinea, a glossy black bird of paradise spreads his feathers like a cheerleader's skirt, the better to look perky as he performs a mating dance. A penguin glides across the Antarctic snow on his stomach — he is, we're told, the only species equipped with a built-in toboggan. Baboons gingerly parade in a line through the flooded Okavango Delta, their cranky expressions indicating they just heard bad news about their 401Ks, or maybe that they just don't like water.
Alastair Fothergill, creator of the TV series "Planet Earth," and Mark Linfield codirected this film, the first from the studio's new DisneyNature division. And while you wonder if this sort of photography might be best suited to a vast IMAX screen, "Earth" is impressive and often beautiful in its swooping views of a variety of creatures around the globe.
Aimed at children, it's gently informative about global warming (a bear in the Arctic desperately tries to find land as the winter ice melts too fast) even as it celebrates the cuteness of baby animals. Two fluffy cubs frolic on a powdery slope as Jones wryly notes, "Unlike humans, polar-bear cubs don't always listen to their moms." We watch "spring flight school" with a family of mandarin ducks, the youngsters demonstrating impressive falling skills, if not yet flying. A baby elephant blindly follows its mother on a long walk through the Kalahari Desert in urgent search of water and food.
Despite the film's G rating, parents of sensitive children should be aware that the young elephant's fate is grim and quite frightening: Hungry lions plot to separate him from his mother and then swarm on him, all grainily shot through a nighttime camera that makes it all look like some sort of nature snuff film. Likewise, a sprightly caribou cub loses an increasingly desperate race with a predatory wolf.
We don't see the blood, but it's easy to imagine kids being disturbed by this; it's the reality of the food chain, but might cause a few tears. "Earth" tries to both humanize the animals (and their "moms") and to remain detached about their fates — a tricky balance.
Though it doesn't quite reach the visual artistry of "Winged Migration," "Earth" still dazzles with its multitude of how-did-they-get-that shots. A vast herd of migrating caribou looks like an array of dots spread over a sepia landscape; much farther north, conifers peek through the depths of snow, their boughs slathered with white like a Christmas village. It's the best kind of special effect: the kind that's real.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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