THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayOnce upon a time, Disney produced a series of nature documentaries called "True-Life Adventures." It was popular with all ages and had an enduring appeal. Though the studio took liberties and added funny music to scenes of birds crash landing on frozen ponds, for instance, the films were enlightening and entertaining. Now years later, the studio has embarked on new adventures with a series called Disney Nature.
"Disney Nature: Earth" is now available on Blu-ray.
Culled from hours of footage shot in nature's most extreme environments, "Earth" tries to tell the story of three animal families making treks across the ocean, Arctic, and Africa. James Earl Jones lends his classic voice to narrate.
The film is accomplished in bringing wild animals to life. The cinematography is quite striking, having been shot with high definition cameras. Watching this film on an HD set is a real treat. Visually it's spectacular.
The film, for me, loses ground on keeping me interested in the fate of the animals. I didn't find myself caring for their plight as I did for the animals in the "True-Life" series. "Earth" has a dead serious tone and almost feels like a downer.
It's probably unfair to compare this to films made last century. Different times, different values. Yet why do those films, narrated by Winston Hibler, still resonate? I think it has to do with the playful nature of those films. They did show, to a degree, the harsh reality of nature. But they placed the animals on a human stage. We could relate to them, and darn it, animals can be funny! "Earth" doesn't want to play that much. It wants the audience to take these animals seriously, and I that's where the film stumbles. Despite its gorgeous imagery and high production value, it feels cold. I wanted to feel for the polar bear family, but I didn't. Both the whale and elephant families escaped my mind the second they were off-screen.
As always, it's great to hear James Earl Jones speak. He's a class actor. He could read out of the Yellow Pages and I'd listen. Unfortunatley his narration isn't enough to save the film.
The Blu-ray picture radiates high definition, showing detail and color that makes for excellent demo material. This is high quality cinematography and Blu-ray is the perfect format for it. Disney again has done a fine job in presenting their films in this format.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is excellent, yet the mix is a bit laid back. James Earl Jones' voice is loud and clear, as expected. The music score is beautifully done. The mix, though, seems to be not very powerful. I was hoping for a bit more power to the score.
One note about the film's "G" rating. Like "March of the Penguins," the film honestly should've received a "PG" rating. "Earth" does contain some shots where animals attack other animals. These are shown with a bit more brutality than what was shown in "True-Life Adventures." I know kids are supposedly more desensitized today than my parents were. But I believe quite a few younger kids might be very frightened of these scenes.
This isn't your father's Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom or Disney's own "True-Life Adventures." It's a modern and predictable take on nature films. I just wish it wasn't so heavy-handed.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Disney. All rights reserved.