GETTING BACK TO NATURE @ 22 October 2010 09:56 PM
Walt Disney's True-Life Adventure series began with Seal Island, one of many ideas he had that seemed crazy at the time -- a genre of film in which massive amounts of nature footage was edited to tell a story. The series was a long running success, leading to an endless parade of shorts, features and, more than anything else, TV shows featuring animals.

There were also some controversies. Some animal specialists and other critics were not pleased with how these films created an "anthropomorphosis" for the animals, attributing to them thoughts and motivations created through the editing and narration rather than real life events. You know, like reality TV (so does that make Snooki the new Perri?)

However, that was part of the entertainment value of the films, and what made them so memorable. It's to the credit of those who create films either produced or released by Disneynature to acheive a similar quality with a keener eye for nonfiction.

They also have an advantage early nature documentarists never dreamed of -- high-definition photography and fascinating gadgets like remote helicopter-like cameras and deep-sea devices.

These developments and more are put to extremely effective use on both new Disneynature Blu-ray and DVD releases, Disneynature: Oceans and Crimson Wing-The Mystery of the Flamingo. These two features each offer spectacular footage never before put on film.

In place of the paternal Winston Hibler or the folksy Rex Allen, who did so much of the early Disney nature film narrations, Oceans is told with a combination of awe and matter-of-fact assertion by Pierce Brosnan. Listening to him narrate, I couldn't help wondering how many other commercials and films I had heard with his voice, but not realizing it.

Oceans is a dynamic, but fairly straightforward tour through the seas, showcasing the familiar, the strange and of course, the endangered (Disney Channel pop stars Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas add their "Friends for Change" note with a song over the end credits that is also a music video).

The bonus features examine the filmmaking techniques and also promote the Disney Corporate environmental initiatives, which might seem a bit self-serving to some but is a largely sincere and highly accomplished effort by those involved who are seriously dedicated to these issues. Disney's a big company and it's a business, but it also brings these issues into the mainstream and allows costly research to take place. And it gets films like this into the mainstream, too.

Of the two films, Crimson Wing is the most unique. Told in a lyrical style, it's more of an epic poem on film than a documentary. The images are often surprisingly abstract -- like visual puzzles that disorient the eye before revealing what they are. In one sequence, for example, the flamingos glide over a lake surface so calm you can't tell where the birds are until the ripples appear.

The narrator of Crimson Wing is Mariella Frostrup, well-known to BBC watchers and listeners. To me, her narrator conjured up memories of the original Living Seas film at Epcot ("And it rained, and rained and rained...the deluge"). The whole film has that quality. So if you're a vintage Epcot fan, you'll get a kick out of Crimson Wing in a way that the filmmakers never intended, I'm sure.

Oceans and Crimson Wing both take the viewer out of the everyday and to a larger plane of existence, a bigger picture, as it were, of our existence and that of the creatures around us. It can't hurt to be reminded that there's a lot more to the world.

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