April 24, 2009

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Earth (G)
Creatures great and small share a year cohabitating and occasionally eating each other in Earth, a lovely-looking nature movie perfect for the whole family.

Assuming all members of the family are OK with baby animals occasionally getting eaten. It’s not presented with any gore, but the consequences of the circle of life are pretty clearly laid out.

And who better to narrate the circle of life than Mufasa himself, Mr. James Earl Jones, whose voice adds to the whole “majesty and grandeur of nature” aesthetic that the film is clearly going for. (Fun fact: apparently the British version of the film uses Patrick Stewart and his Shakespeare-by-way-of-Captain-Picard voice.) Over the course of the film, we check in with a family of polar bears in the Arctic, a mom and baby elephant in the Kalahari, and a mom and baby whale migrating through the oceans. In between the stories of these stars are smaller segments featuring little moments of life in other kinds of terrains — the sub-Arctic forests of pine, the forests of Europe and North America, a rain forest, the Himalayas and assorted more lush parts of Africa. (Fans of the BBC’s Planet Earth will recognize footage from that series.) As we meet wolves, birds of paradise, gazelles, cheetahs, polar bears, monkeys, walruses, baby ducks and one truly awesome-looking shark, we get the nickel tour of the people-free parts of the globe with occasional and very gentle reminders of how the people-intensive parts of the world might be mucking things up for all these cool animals.

The movie, scheduled to be released on Earth Day, is clearly meant to wow us with all the crazy plumage, spotted fur and massive teeth that exist in the world, leaving the “don’t screw it up” mostly to us to consider on our own. That’s probably for the best. In the polar bear story, one of the members of our bear family finds it harder and harder to hunt fish because of the thinning ice in his hunting grounds. This is traumatic enough to provoke a family discussion about turning the lights off when you leave a room. Likewise, when it comes to the relationship between carnivores and their prey, the movie generally stops at the point when the fast running thing with teeth catches the slower (and inevitably cuter) animal, leaving it to you to decide how much to explain to younger kids about what happens next.

Assuming this part of nature (and about an hour and a half of live-action movie) isn’t too much for your kid, this is truly a movie that has the potential to entertain all members of the family. The kids will laugh at the scenes of monkeys delicately wading through a flooded plain and you will marvel at dizzying shots over waterfalls and the Shark Week coolness of the shots wherein a great white leaps almost entirely out of the water and opens its mouth to show off its massive eating-things capability. Though it’s screened in a regular stadium non-IMAX theater, Earth gives you that big-screen IMAX-like sense of awe about what you’re seeing. The colors are vibrant, the images are stunning and the animals are, where appropriate, terrifying or adorable. B+

Rated G. Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield and written by Fothergill, Linfield and Leslie Meghey, Earth is an hour and 39 minutes long and is distributed by Disneynature.