Earth -- Film Review

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Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! These creatures and many more are on vivid display in "Earth," the first feature from Disney's new division, Disneynature, that aims to revive the tradition of nature documentaries that Walt Disney pioneered in the 1950s.

This initial entry from a team of British filmmakers tries to add an environmental slant to the animal footage that Disney favors, but the effort seems halfhearted compared with more politically charged documentaries like "An Inconvenient Truth." The film makes a few remarks about melting ice caps but spends most of its energy chronicling the exploits of polar bears, caribou, elephants, humpback whales and other exotic species. Disney probably is hoping for another "March of the Penguins," but this film is too diffuse to match the boxoffice success of that film.

"Earth's" main virtue is its consistently spectacular cinematography. From the opening shots of white snow against a crisp blue sky, the images are rendered with dazzling, crystalline clarity. The camera gets remarkably close to polar bear cubs emerging from the ice and to birds in flight. But the verbal side of the film does not equal the visual eloquence. Although the narration is provided by James Earl Jones, the words he utters in his rich, stentorian tones rarely reach beyond platitudes about the "circle of life."

Another problem is that the film tries to cover too much ground. Just as we are getting absorbed in the story of the polar bears' struggle to survive, the film shifts to elephants trekking across the Kalahari and then surveys whales migrating thousands of miles. There are asides to birds of paradise in New Guinea, leopards and gazelles in Africa, even a brief visit to the penguins of Antarctica.

Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield skim briskly across the globe, but their approach is too bland. While the film observes wolves stalking caribou and lions pursuing baby elephants, it discreetly cuts away from the actual kill. This obviously was meant to shield tots from any frightening images, but the fastidiousness undercuts the drama. ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������

Although "Earth" falls short of its potential, it still contains enough glorious photography to please its target audience. George Fenton's lush musical score enhances the spectacle, and the sound recording also is first-rate.

Opens: Wednesday, April 22 (Disney)
Production: Greenlight Media, BBC Films, Discovery Films
Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield
Writer: Leslie Megahey
Producers: Alix Tidmarsh, Sophokles Tasioulis
Executive producers: Mike Phillips, Andre Sikojev, Stefan Beiten, Wayne Garvie, Nikolaus Weil
Directors of photography: Richard Brooks Burton, Mike Holding, Andrew Shillabeer
Music: George Fenton
Editor: Martin Elsbury
Narrator: James Earl Jones
Rated G, 90 minutes
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