Directed by: Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
Starring: James Earl Jones (voice)
It’s fitting that Earth—the first release from Disney’s newest imprint, Disneynature—was released to coincide with Earth Day, since everyone involved is very active in recycling. The footage for Earth is taken from the 2006 BBC documentary series Planet Earth, narrated by Sir Richard Attenborough. The series was released stateside a year later on the Discovery Channel, with Sigourney Weaver replacing Attenborough as narrator. In 2007, the footage was pared down to feature-length in the UK—with narration by Patrick Stewart—to create Earth, which has finally made its way here, with the voice of James Earl Jones calling the action in the U.S. version.
It’s hard not to get the feeling that something has been lost in the transition to theaters. The movie is geared towards families and the younger set, and while a loose narrative following a few families of animals has been thrown together, the precociousness and cuteness of nature seems to be the ultimate point of it all. Not that Earth ever shies away from the violence and tragedy of nature—we still get baby caribou being hunted by wolves and elephants attacked by lions (the Woody Allen view of “nature as a giant cafeteria”)—but it’s all bloodless and G-rated. There’s also some tacked-on business about climate change, and while thankfully not heavy-handed, it isn’t shocking either.
Shot in HD, the film is often striking and majestic on the big screen. But this doesn’t keep it from giving off a sense of been there, done that. Maybe it’s because the film has been so cut down from its original form, but nothing about Earth seems terribly fresh or informative, coming across more as an especially spectacular episode of Wild Kingdom than anything else. Kids could get a good bit out of it, but anyone older looking for a seriously edifying nature documentary would probably be best served just sticking to The Discovery Channel. Rated G.