Who’s In It: James Earl Jones (narrator)
The Basics: Back before I was born— a really long time ago—Disney used to make these cool nature documentaries like 1953’s The Living Desert and you’d get to watch scorpions fight and eat each other and stuff like that. Well, anyway, that’s my memory of it from watching it 15 years later on TV’s The Wonderful World of Disney. For all I know scorpions are vegan. Anyway, the tradition is back with this lavishly photographed documentary about adorable baby animals (minus the scorpion battles) and their desperate-to-stay-alive-and-find-food parents in threatened environments (minus the Al Gore—you get mostly gentle reminders of all those inconvenient truths in this one).
What’s The Deal: This is from the BBC guys who made that amazing miniseries Planet Earth and it’s more or less the same deal--sometimes it looks like outtakes really, even though it's not--just way bigger to look at. The only problem with it is that they want to jump around from species to species to get as much animal diversity in as possible, so unlike in March of the Penguins, you don’t get that full “season in the life of” quality, more like the highlights. And frankly, that’s fine by me, because if little kids get bored watching it (it’s rated G and meant for the whole family) then they get fidgety and whiny and loud. And I can’t stand that).
Most Photogenic Baby Animals: The polar bear cubs. And they also make the best noises. But the coolest looking things in the movie are the dozens of types of birds of paradise doing mating dances in the rainforests. Someone make sure to keep Sarah Jessica Parker away from these exotic creatures or they're all going to become hats.
When In Doubt, Whip Penguins Out: Isn’t it kind of cheating to put penguins in, like, any movie any more? Even in a live-action movie that isn’t about animals, even if it’s just Meg Ryan passing some by some in a scene at a zoo? It’s almost like they’ve become shorthand for an urgent need for audience affection. But in the movie's defense, they're only in it for a minute and at least the movie doesn’t anthropomorphize any of the creatures too much, unlike that crappy Queen Latifah-narrated Arctic Tale from a couple years back.
How Much Child-Trauma-Inducing Circle Of Life Stuff There Is: Just a light dusting. They cut away from most of the major carnivorous action, except for this one insane bit where a great white shark leaps into the air to grab and chomp down a seal like a bite-sized Snickers bar. Add James Earl Jones intoning, "The Great. White. Shark!" over that footage and you've got pure G-rating-boundary pushing entertainment.