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DVD Review: DisneyNature: Earth

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On September 1, 2009, Walt Disney Studios releases Earth on DVD. Originally released on big screens in April 2009 on Earth Day, this is a wildlife documentary the likes of which has never before been seen. And that may be a good thing now that there's a race against time as world climate changes threaten habitats around the globe. We have entered an age where documentary filmmakers have unprecedented technology at their disposal, which grants us never-before seen close-up footage of animals in the wild. And this is a great time for Disney to get back into the nature documentary game.

Earth pairs filmmakers Alastair Fothergill (The Blue Planet) and Mark Linfield (Planet Earth) with the latest camera equipment to bring stories of polar bears, humpback whales, elephants, and more to the big screen. Add to that the fact that Disney had James Earl Jones narrate this 90-minute feature and you make compelling visuals that much more compelling to viewers. DisneyNature is a new motion picture label that follows in the footsteps of past Academy award-winning movie series True Life Adventures from Disney such as The Living Desert (Best Documentary, Features, 1953) and The Vanishing Prairie (Best Documentary, Features; 1954).

We wanted to see this when it was at the theater, but schedules never worked out to get there. As such, my family and I were excited to see this movie on DVD. And it didn't disappoint.

The filmmakers did a remarkable job, getting footage from multiple continents and oceans to bring us a complete story with some simply shocking video. When you see a Great White Shark leap from the ocean to nearly swallow a seal whole – not once, but twice – it leaves a lasting impression. So does the footage of the cheetah streaking across the African Savannah after a young antelope. And the stories of wildlife involved in daily life-and-death struggles are absolutely compelling.

The cdocumentary follows a polar bear mother and her cubs, a humpbacked whale and her baby, and a group of elephants. The distances these animals have to go to survive is simply astounding, as are some of the environmental difficulties they now face. With global warming, the Arctic ice pack disappears faster and faster each year, forcing polar bears to go to great lengths to find food to eat for themselves and their young. The whales traversed 4,000 miles from the tropics to their feeding grounds near Antarctica. And the elephants navigating across the Kalahari Desert in the dry season to finally arrive at the Okavango Delta and the seasonal flood that turns the area green and teeming with life.

These aren't the only stories in the film, just the main threads through which everything else is woven. My daughters also loved the footage of the mandarin ducklings falling from a great height to land safely in the leaves on the forest floor and the baboon troupe moving across the flooded plains of the Okavango.

As with all Disney documentaries, they do their best to avoid showing actual bloodshed. As such, you see the cheetah catch the antelope and sink her teeth into its throat as the footage ends. And you see a group of lions surround and attack an elephant, but don't see the brutal end except for a few drops of blood on the ground in the morning sun. This is a documentary meant for family consumption and I think even Walt Disney himself would have been proud of how it turned out.

In addition to the 90-minute movie itself, there is also the "Earth Diaries: The Making Of earth The Movie" feature. Here you get to hear the tales from the filmmakers themselves – from the cameraman who had an appendicitis emergency while filming in the Antarctic to the cameraman who had a new high-speed high-definition camera at his disposal to capture a cheetah on the attack and Great Whites leaping off the shore of South Africa. These dedicated men and women risked their lives to capture the footage for the film and deserve some serious recognition for their efforts.

Overall, DisneyNature: Earth is an amazing acomplishment. I can't wait until Earth Day 2010 when we see DisneyNature: Oceans hit the big screens! If you are looking for a great nature documentary to share with your family, DisneyNature: Earth is a perfect way to spend an evening. Look for it at your favorite retailer when it is released on September 1, 2009.

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!