Disney Again Hears the Call of the Wild


Tradition is a wonderful thing in the fleeting world of television programming. Thatmight explain why “Alaska: Dances of the Caribou,” the first of four documentaries in Disney’s “New True Life Adventures” series, feels like a heartwarming bowl of chicken soup for the weary soul of your average TV addict.

The series resurrects the cozy television specials that Disney created in the ‘50s, contemplating exotic natural worlds with the same sense of idealistic wonderment one finds in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

Times have changed, however. Although it focuses mostly on the exhilarating beauty of Alaska and the miraculous ways in which nature takes care of itself, the show also offers occasional unflinching glimpses at the cruelty of everyday life in the wilderness.

Every year, thousands of antlered caribou engage in what Pocahontas would call the endless circle of life, as they migrate to the North Slope of the Brooks Range to avoid the paralyzing cold of the winter.

The show offers breathtakingly beautiful footage of an avalanche, shots of rainbows and of caribou calves taking their first timid steps. Inevitably, there are also shots of wolves and grizzly bears devouring unfortunate caribou as well as the heartbreaking scene of a calf crying alone, looking for its mother.


But the show never relishes these morbid aspects of life. Instead, it presents them with a mature, detached point of view. The death of an animal is the birth of a new one, the narrative implies. The end of a journey is the beginning of another one. Besides boasting the Disney trademark elements of an impeccable music score, narration and script, the documentary has benefited strongly by the technological advances in filmmaking. Using time-lapse photography, slow motion, high-speed film and over-amplified sound effects, the show often becomes a poetic dance of images and sound, a mesmerizing reminder that there are still, in this day and age, places untouched by the clumsy hand of modern man.


* “Alaska: Dances of the Caribou” can be seen at 4 p.m. Sunday on ABC.