Review: Earth is Disneynature's First Magnificent Offering

"Earth is very real, very beautiful and very much appropriate for children of all ages."

 

Before heading to the theater with our 13-, 11-, and 6-year-olds and a couple of their friends to watch

Disneynature's new film, Earth, I had a little talk of the "this is a film about real life, and real animals, and in real life, you know, animals die" variety with my son; he tends to be sensitive to animal suffering, real or scripted. While the conversation was a good idea, it was probably unnecessary. While some animals certainly do die, no

blood, much less carnage, appears anywhere in the film. Earth is very real, very beautiful and very much appropriate for children of all ages, not to mention their babysitters, parents, and grandparents.

I would like to clear up the not-entirely-accurate, official Disneynature description of Earth which suggests it "tells the remarkable story of three animal families." While three particular animal families -- polar bears, African elephants, and humpback whales (each of which, it is interesting to note, is headed by a single mom) -- do receive exceptional coverage, it's more accurate to say that the film tells a bit of their remarkable stories. Earth's scope, like the planet it reveals, is extremely large and diverse. A film devoted entirely to the stories of three particular animal families would necessarily exclude the many other animals

this film introduces. Families or children particularly interested in one of these three animals might feel disappointed to

discover broader coverage than the advertising suggests, but we all thoroughly enjoyed this terrific film.

Earth begins in the endless night of an Arctic winter and progresses south, down and around the globe, all the way to Antarctica

over the course of a year. The film concludes back in the Arctic, with the polar bear cubs introduced in the beginning now old enough to

strike out on their own. It is an interesting format which allows great breadth (42 animal species were reportedly filmed by Earth's cameramen),

if not exactly depth, of coverage. Particularly fascinating to me are the incredibly gorgeous and weird birds of paradise of New Guinea, one

variety of which displays some kind of obsessive/compulsive cleaning disorder related to mating. The Demoiselle cranes, which migrate each

year from Mongolia to India over the Himalayas (the highest of which peaks at 26,000 feet!) through violent, rapidly changing wind currents,

are remarkable, and the Mandarin duck chicks (so cute!), who take their first foray out of the nest and into the world by way of a 20-something

foot plunge into a bed of leaves, were a favorite with all the kids.

Carnivorous, predatory animals are well represented by wolves, gorgeous and tenacious; cheetahs, incredibly fleet and lithe; lions, muscular

and organized; great white sharks, enormous and airborne (incredible!); and, of course, the massive and solitary polar bears.

In addition to animals, Earth frequently reminds viewers of the element imperative to all life on the planet, water. It traces the

journey from ocean to clouds to rain and snow to rivers, streams, lakes and back to the ocean, and reinforces the understanding that stewardship

of this precious resource is a responsibility we all share. While explaining the interconnectedness of all life on earth, the film never feels

preachy. I can unhesitatingly recommend this film to my dad, a guy who refuses to watch

"that Gore propaganda film" and who insists that global warming is a myth. Earth seems

to have no objective beyond introducing viewers to the marvels of this planet and reminding us that it is the only one, of which we are aware, that

can sustain life at all, much less the dizzying variety at home here.

In addition to the visual magnificence of this film is the aural glory of its narrator, the inimitable James Earl Jones. His

sonorous voice is reassuring, familiar, and full of gentle authority that only adds to the overall experience.

Finally, be sure to stick around for the credits, which include shots of the cameramen getting the stupendous footage that comprises the film,

something I wondered about throughout the movie. The tenacity and ingenuity of the filmmakers is just another example of the amazing creatures that

make their home on this plant, Earth.

Grade: A