disneynatureStudio: Disney
Year: 2009
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Run time: 90 minutes
Rating: G

Audio: DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 mix
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Disc Spec: 1 BD50
Region: A

A nature documentary compiled from the vast footage of the BBC’s and The Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth  series and produced by award-winning British producer and director Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, Earth is the first nature film from the newly formed Disneynature–a Disney independent film label dedicated to bringing high impact wildlife and environmental films to theaters. James Earl Jones narrates this US version of the 96-minute documentary film (the English and German version are narrated by Patrick Stewart and Ulrich Tukur, respectively) which follows families of arctic polar bears, African elephants, and humpback whales for an entire year. The film tracks the animals’ migrations across the globe and through some of the harshest terrains and climates on earth, pointing out in a factual and remarkably non-political way the negative effects of global warming and habitat destruction on these animals and the planet as a whole. Selected from the over 4,000 days of cinematography that went into the making of Planet Earth, every image is breathtakingly spectacular (especially the first-ever aerial footage of Mount Everest) and Jones’ concise narration is engaging and packed with information. What makes this film different from Planet Earth, besides the obvious shorter run-time, is the sense of story that permeates this film. While children and others disinclined toward factual documentaries or nature films might find Planet Earth overly long and somewhat dry, Earth views more like an entertainingly touching story about several animal families. The first story begins with an adorable look at two 2-month-old polar bears and their first encounter with the snow and ice outside their den.

Viewers of all ages will raptly follow their long trek with their mother across the ice to the water’s edge to find food. Danger looms in many places and the polar bears’ father’s desperate attempts to find food on the ice turn perilous when he ends up stranded in the icy water and is forced to swim to shore where he’s outnumbered by fiercely protective walruses. Footage of over 42 kinds of strange and beautiful New Guinea birds of paradise is rich with their breathtaking sounds and colors as well as the trees, fungi, flowers, and plants of tropical rainforest they inhabit. In stark contrast to the moisture-rich tropical rainforests that cover a mere 3% of the earth’s surface, but support about 50% of the planet’s animals and plants, are the dry lands of the Kalahari desert of South Africa where we meet the African elephants. The elephants’ epic quest for food and water leads a mother elephant and her baby across vast prairies, savannahs, grasslands, and barren desert to inland deltas and water holes where they are forced into a tense and fragile alliance with a variety of other animals including their natural predators. Frighteningly real (though not gory) footage of lions attacking the elephants may well scare or disturb young children and the faint of heart, but it serves as a poignant reminder of the natural circle of life. The humpback whales’ long migration across half the globe is similarly fraught with danger, yet full of underwater beauty, just as the Adélie penguins’ life in one of the earths’ most inhospitable lands also features the unexpected beauty of the striking Aurora Australis lightshow. What tracking a year in the life of all these amazing animals demonstrates is not only the exceptional beauty and strikingly harsh realities of life in the wild, but also the resilience of earth’s creatures.

The film contains gorgeous photography showing a handful of animals across the planet. Moving in a more or less sensical fashion across the globe, we start by watching a family of polar bears in the North Pole. Mama and her two cubs venture out of their hibernation and we watch as the two cubs take their first steps across the frozen ice. With the success of “March of the Penguins”, it must be required to include footage of cute baby animals in any nature film released. But as James Earl Jones’ grave voice intones “One of these cubs will most likely not live through the year”. Oh, oh. Then the footage picks up their father who is treading across increasingly thin ice to find food. Whether or not these animals are related (and I don’t see how the filmmakers could know this) is beyond the point. The filmmakers are trying to tell a story and craft it in such a way as to reach their core audience, families with kids.

Many stories are woven throughout one another, but the main focus is on three animal families and the harsh realities of surviving on Earth. The first one centers on a mother polar bear and her two cubs; they awaken from hibernation in the Arctic Circle and begin a dangerous journey towards the sea to look for food. The father bear, who began hunting before his family awoke, faces starvation after falling through thin ice and getting lost. It’s probably the most heart-wrenching sequence in the entire film, especially since we know that global warming contributed to the problem.
Movie Quality: 9/10

Print/Audio Quality

The print is presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are vivid and bright offering a nice pop that wasn’t expected. There is some softness throughout the print, but nothing that hurts the print. Sharpness and details are also very good, with inky looking blacks. For fans of the film, you will not be disappointed.
Video Quality: 8.5/10

The audio is presented in DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 mix. his is not an audio mix that you will go in expecting huge things from the soundfield as it is a documentary primarily dialogue driven. James Earl Jones provides the narration. The dialogue is clean and clear through the center channel with no apparent issues. The surrounds come into play with the sounds by the animals,but not overdone.
Audio Quality: 8/10

Special Features

  • Filmmaker Annotations
  • Earth Diaries – The Making of Earth the Movie

Special Features: 5/10

Final Thoughts

‘Disneynature Earth’ captures bits and pieces of ‘Planet Earth’ in a mere 90 minutes which to many might be the perfect compilation for short viewings at the film. If you were a fan of ‘Planet Earth’ then you will like ‘Disneynature Earth’.
Overall Rating: 8/10