REEL CRITIC:

The “Earth” experience, a compelling documentary from the Disney Nature Series, is one that shouldn't be missed, even if you feel that you may have already seen enough of that from the old days of “The Wonderful World of Color.”

“Earth” is a wonderful motion picture.

The film crew assembled for this project counted almost 60 cameramen who followed their quarry via Jeeps and trucks, mini-submarines, and in at least one sequence in a two-man hot-air balloon that found itself tangled in the top of a tree during a particularly dicey film shoot.

“Earth” is primarily concerned with three animal families and the travails they encounter on the migrations that they are forced to endure, migrations brought about either by primal calling or dire need.

We learn from a small polar bear family, a sow and her two cubs, that their icy habitat is being threatened by a warming environment that is making food harder for them to find. But that bad news aside, the three are a charming little family with mama bear in the lead sweeping her head from side to side in a never-ending search for food with the two cubs close behind, stumbling over each other in their own never-ending search for a good time.

We follow a small herd of elephants struggling across the Kalahari Desert, in southern Africa, on their annual journey to the Okavango delta, a trip of 500 miles or more through some of the most forbidding terrain on the planet. The elephants are without water and shelter the entire way and must endure not only the withering exposure to the elements, but they are being relentlessly tracked by a pride of hungry lions as well.

The ragged group of lions eventually isolate an adolescent pachyderm, and the audience witnesses a hair-raising sequence shot at night with an infrared lens. The big cats swarm the unfortunate elephant and actually bring him down in a heart-rending display of feral panic.

Heading southeast from the arctic and sub-Saharan Africa we move to the calm, bathtub-warm Indian Ocean and travel along with a humpback whale and her calf on a 4,000-mile trip to Antarctic waters where a freezing spray can result when the bulky yet lithe cetaceans breech in the frigid seawater. The whales fatten up on large swarms of krill on their way south, and they will need the extra bulk to survive in the less hospitable Antarctic.

Apart from the focus on the three families, the camera takes in scenes of many other species that are encountered along the lengthy voyages. Groups of oddly gaited penguins marching over snow and ice in the Antarctic give the film a few light moments, as does a hilarious look at a bird-of-paradise mating ritual in the Amazon rain forest.

After the credits ran, we were treated to several filmed sequences that described the on-the-job techniques used by the various film crews. In order to film the nocturnal attack on the elephants, for example, the crew was locked in a portable fortress made of steel walls and thick plexiglass windows. And even if we did know that the jittery crew was secure inside, it was no less an unsettling experience to see the half-starved felines pounding away at the tiny structure.

Rated G, of course, “Earth” runs for one hour and 30 minutes.


?JEFF KLEMZAK is a nature lover from La Crescenta where he keeps a close eye on a tree full of pesky squirrels who reside there in his backyard.

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