Human children love fruit snacks with the same ferocity that humpback whale pups love
krill. Both are chewy, whimsically shaped and come in assorted colors. Well, technically krill only comes krill-shaped. And technically all krill are orange with bioluminescent tails. But in the mouth of a baby mammal, chewy is chewy. And for the sake of Darwin, snack time is snack time.
Mother Human can appease her child's affection for gummy treats with the swipe of a credit card. Mother Humpback, on the other hand, must blow bubbles while swimming
in circles to create a delicate bubble net in which the krill can be caught and subsequently devoured by her young fleet.
When faced with this carnage, children of the mid-1990s "Lion King" franchise
might nod sagely, ruminating over "the circle of life" while strumming a sitar. But those Clinton-era days of soft-serve parables have perished with the stock market.
In today's economy, Walt Disney has no budget for kumbaya. Instead he'd rather team up with the BBC, Greenlight Media and the Discovery Channel to produce a kid-friendly spin-off of the acclaimed documentary series "Planet Earth." Apart from jarring cinematography captured on more than 200 locations across the globe, "Earth" directors Alastair Forthergill and Mark Linfield offer critical lessons for
unsuspecting human young. For instance: running in a herd is a great way to generate
panic. A caribou calf is capable of outrunning a wolf if it keeps its footing. Polar bear cubs don't always listen to their moms. Male birds are beautiful and girl birds are ugly.
Monkeys can shovel fistfuls of oranges into their mouths at a time. A baby duck's first
flight is nothing more than highly stylized free falling.
While singing lion cubs might have served 90s trophy kids just fine, turn of the century toddlers have reverted to naturalism. This generation will sit quietly in a dark room as James Earl Jones guides them through migration patterns and teaches them wilderness skills. Like how to fall with style and escape from the big, bad wolf. Most of them probably
couldn't spot Darth Vader in a lineup.
"Earth" marks Disney's first venture under its new nature label. Studio chairman Dick
Cook plans to market the series as "event films" a la Jean-Francois Camilleri's "March
of the Penguins" or Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." Oscar-hungry executives are banking on the caliber of success Gore met in 2006. Audiences clamored to watch the
former vice-president revel in his infinite geekdom, hovering his laser-pointer over melting ice caps and dead polar bears.
In a post 9/11 world, people feel powerless. The nature documentary boom cashes in
on this exact insecurity. Though any rational moviegoer knows full well that his cost of admission alone won't stop a flashy global warming Armageddon from ensuing, he still forks over $10.75 with the karmic hope that somehow he is making a difference.
Leave it to Disney to make that dream a perennial reality. "Earth" is slated for wide
theatrical release on April 22: Earth Day. In observance of this, Disneynature has promised to plant a tree in the name of every single person who purchases a ticket to see the film on its opening weekend. In terms of grand gestures, few symbols possess the cockeyed optimism of a freshly planted tree. Your vegan girlfriend will love it.
Many twenty-somethings think that nature documentaries are for mouth breathers and
squares. The enormity of "Earth"'s cinematic scale disproves this. Whether you're in it
for the baby animals, the swooping cinematography, Darth Vader's soothing narrative of the apologetic grand gesture, this movie ticket will not be purchased in vain. At the very least, you can say you finally know what it's like to fly over Mt. Everest in a Nepalese Army spy plane.