Not-So-New Frontiers

‘earth' & ‘star trek'

I remember Walt Disney’s “True-Life Adventures” of the 1940s and ’50s with little fondness. Indeed, The African Lion, The Living Desert, and all the others bored me to a state of stupefaction. Back then, my idea of exploring frozen tundra was to look into the icebox to see if my sister had eaten all the Popsicles, and the only savannah on my horizon was the front lawn I had to mow. Obviously, my lack of enthusiasm for all nature documentaries testified to my own limitations, not Disney’s.

Well, maybe Disney was to blame, too. For all the Oscars they won, those nature films propped up their often impressive visuals with cute, anthropomorphizing commentary (spoken by Winston Hibler)—“this little eagle has spread his wings, but he’s not quite ready for the Air Force Academy yet”—and even cuter mock-sardonic musical accompaniment—Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus” as a soundtrack for rival male elks clashing horns. Worse still, the editing and narration shaped the action so that the lives of beasts became the success story of one particular lion or beaver, enduring hardships and prevailing over all enemies. When Ernest Thompson Seton wrote (in his classic Wild Animals I Have Known), “The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end,” he was stating an undeniable truth that the Disney documentaries could not abide.

Earth is the first release by Disney­nature, the new...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.