Another day, another nature documentary.
At least that’s how it feels, as such offerings pop up with regularity in theaters and on television. But BBC Earth Film’s sequel to its popular Earth has several things going for it. The film largely avoids the treacly anthropomorphism that afflicts Disney’s efforts and makes them resemble live-action versions of cartoons. And it features genuinely stunning photography that certainly benefits from being seen on the big screen. Narrated by Robert Redford, Earth: One Amazing Day proves inspirational in its depiction of the wonders of the natural world.
That the documentary begins with a shot of an adorable giant panda indicates that the filmmakers (there are three directors in all) know their audience. Indeed, at times the film plays like a greatest hits compilation, as with a lengthy segment devoted to, you guessed it, penguins, those superstars of the genre.
Structured to depict nature’s changing reactions from the beginning of a single day until its end, the film features many memorable sequences. Fast-moving snakes hunt down a baby iguana. A zebra foal desperately tries to cross a raging river. Two giraffes pummel each other unmercifully (giraffes!). A leopard tries to kill a baby zebra, only to face the wrath of its brave, protective mother. And a sperm whale takes a nap, its massive body hanging vertically in the ocean.
Fans of Zootopia will certainly appreciate the segment in which a male sloth sits in a tree in the noonday sun (“At this time of day, he’s pretty much comatose,” Redford playfully comments) only to start awake when he hears the sound of a nearby female. Rousing himself from his, well, slothfulness, the animal makes a beeline for the object of his desire, only to discover that she’s nursing her baby and is definitely not interested in any romantic action.
The score composed by Alex Heffes strains a little too hard to be appropriate for the action, ranging from majestic when accompanying manta rays leaping out of the ocean to cutesy when we see a bear vigorously scratching his back on a tree and, when he’s finally done, farting loudly for good measure.
But the narration is thankfully free of cliches and sermonizing, gracefully enhancing the marvelous footage without feeling overly intrusive. It’s wonderfully delivered by Redford, whose soothing voice, not to mention his long association with environmental causes, makes him perfectly suited for the job.
If attentive viewers find that the proceedings occasionally have a familiar feel, that’s because some of the footage has been previously seen in other nature docs. But hey, a little recycling seems perfectly appropriate for a film reminding us of the glories of nature.
Production: Earth Film Productions
Distributor: BBC Earth Films
Narrator: Robert Redford
Directors: Richard Dale, Peter Webber, Lixin Fan
Screenwriters: Frank Cottrell Boyce, Richard Dale, Geling Yan
Producer: Stephen McDonogh
Executive producer: Neil Nightingale
Editor: Andi Campbell-Waite
Composer: Alex Heffes
Rated G, 89 minutes