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The orphan has been a figure of great emotions in literature since well before the birth of cinema. Certainly Dickens loved his orphans and so did early movie pioneer D.W. Griffith. Born to be Wild 3D represents a new kind of orphan story though, as it shows two very determined women, half a world apart, who devote their lives to rescuing orphaned wild animal to nurture, rehabilitate and return to the wild.
The production from Warner Bros. and Imax Filmed Entertainment, shown exclusively in Imax theaters in superb 3D, is pretty much aimed at family audiences to acquaint children with ecological and conservation ethics in a fun, entertainment way. As narrator Morgan Freeman puts it right at the beginning, these are “fairy tales” only ones that are absolutely true.
Dickens and Griffith both would have loved this movie. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the two species being rescued are fascinating and loveable creatures.
In the verdant rainforests of the Tanjung Puting National Park in central Borneo, renowned primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has been rescuing orphaned orangutans for years through her Orangutan Foundation International in cooperation with the Indonesian Forestry Department. Illegal logging and other human activities have so shrunk their habitat — and killed enough mother orangutans — that the animal is verging on extinction.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick, of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust founded by her late husband in the rugged Kenyan Savannah of east Africa, has rescued some 200 baby elephants, most of whom lose their mothers through the brutality of ivory poachers.
While these animals are quite different — elephants are communal beasts, for instance, while orangutans are a solitary bunch — the experiences and techniques of the two women are remarkably similar. The movie, smartly directed by David Lickley (Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees) and written by its producer Drew Fellman, cuts back and forth between these two remote centers for orphaned kids, showing everything from a baby elephant rescue to the release of animals back into the wild.
These women and their dedicated staffs nurture the babies back to physical and mental health — the death of parents brings as much trauma to animals as it would to humans — and make certain they learn all the necessary survival techniques to go along with their own natural instincts. The animals are under human care but nothuman supervision, the movie notes. They must retain their wildness.
Both species are finally let loose to “halfway houses” in supervised releases. In the case of the elephants, somehow a herd of previously rescued but now wild elephants knows to turn up at a remote spot to take over from the human caretakers. It’s a remarkable sight.
The movie makes this effort seem somewhat idyllic. You’re told that not all babies survive but you see no animals with health problems. The film doesn’t go into any of the messy details that must arise nor does it get into, say, the trial-and-error process that led to creating the right milk formula for a baby elephant to get its nutrition.
The point here is to appeal to the younger generation, not to produce a documentary that explores all facets of this no doubt arduous yet rewarding effort in animal conservation.
The digital 3D lensing by David Douglas is awesome in its penetration of two wildlife habitats while pop songs and a jaunty music score from Mark Mothersbaugh make the whole thing feel like summer camp.
Opens: April 8 (Warner Bros. and Imax Filmed Entertainment)
Director: David Lickley
Screenwriter/producer: Drew Feldman
Supervising line producer: Diane Roberts
Narrator: Morgan Freeman
Director of photography: David Douglas
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Special consultant: Dr. Richard Leakey
Editor: Beth Spiegel
Rated G, 40 minutes
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