Long before the Discovery Channel and weeklong programming of gorging great whites, there was Walt Disney’s “True-Life Adventures,” a series of nonfiction films that introduced youngsters to the world of anthropomorphized beasties. So given that Mouse Ears, Inc., popularized the nature doc back in the early ’50s, this grand reentry into the genre could be read as the studio’s attempt to reclaim its Living Desert glory days. The technology may have changed—you’d swear those breathtaking vistas were created for hi-def cinematography, instead of the other way round—but otherwise, this portrait of a year in the wildlife could have come from a time capsule. Creatures still fight to survive. Animals still do the craziest things.
When narrator James Earl Jones’s signature basso profundo doesn’t bring to mind Darth Vader cracking jokes about ducklings, his wry-to-overwrought commentary lends a mock solemnity to the proceedings that’s occasionally laughable. (“This is the circle of life that most of us...have lost touch with,” he intones over footage of a cougar chasing down lunch; he’s obviously never been to Filene’s Basement on a sale day.) Still, truly breathtaking images are embedded in Earth’s kid-friendly kill-or-be-killed scenarios: a pride of lions attacking a pachyderm, a deep-sea predator launching itself into the air, a God’s-eye view of migrating caribou. Nature can be cruel, children, but damned if it isn’t seriously photogenic.—David Fear