Disneynature Ranking

Hi guys!  So I have finished reviewing the Disneynature films!  It has been such an amazing experience to see God’s creation in all their variety and order.  I’ve learned a lot, been entertained and inspired.  But I know you are dying to know now that I have seen all 8 how do they rank?  First of all, they all have incredible cinematography and what these people do to get these images is unbelievable.  They risk their lives to keep all of us and especially children aware of these animals.  That is worthy of the strongest praise.  All of them are worthy of integration into the classroom and could be valuable parts of any home library.

But here is my ranking of the films.

wings of life28. Wings of Life–  bugs just aren’t that cute and I didn’t learn that much about the bees or bee crisis.  The only one I would say was kind of boring although Meryl Streep is good as the narrator.


7. Earth– more like a nature documentary for television.  No real narrative but full of amazing images so I enjoyed watching it.  Some of the global warming stuff feels a little dated and heavy-handed although a very important message for kids.


6. Oceans– again no narrative and more like a documentary you’d see on PBS or Animal Planet but I love the ocean so it was very interesting.  I just like the one’s with a little bit more story added in.  Like Earth it feels a little dated and preachy at times.

african cats5. African Cats– this one has amazing images but the narration is a little corny and it can get kind of brutal at times with lions hunting and eating zebras and antelope.  It could be upsetting for preschool age children.  It’s also a little bit too long.

monkey kingdom4. Monkey Kingdom– a very sweet story of Maya and her little monkey baby.  I liked Tina Fey and it will provide a good learning opportunity when kids see the different social classes within the monkey tribe.  Maya is on the bottom of the class structure so she is kept from doing many things and life is harder.  It is the movie which seemed the most staged to me especially the birthday party but I still enjoyed it.


3. Bears– this is the most child-friendly of the films with a bear and her cubs trying to get food, catch fish (basically the bear necessities!).  There is a wolf that gives a few tense moments but nothing compared to African Cats.  It’s not as slow moving as the more traditional films (Earth, Oceans, Wings of Life etc).  It has a narrative kids will like and the bears are really cute.

Chimpanzee2. Chimpanzee– this is a cool movie because you can tell the outcome surprised the filmmakers which is the grandest part of nature.  They are ready to close up shop when the mother chimpanzee dies and out of the blue another male chimpanzee decides to care for the little chimp.  Even Jane Goodall is amazed at what happens.  She says it is highly unusual for male chimps.  It could be staged but it doesn’t feel so.  It is such a huge part of the movie and there are so many interviews and stories that I believe it happened.  What they had to go through to make this movie is unbelievable and to hear Goodall talk about the experience gave an authenticity that none of the other Disneynature films have.  I sometimes wish they would use a little bit more science but I understand they are trying to tell stories and inspire kids.

crimsonwing1.  Crimson Wing- I found out after watching this movie it wasn’t released in theaters!!!  Shocking because it was my favorite by a fairly wide margin.  I was totally invested in the story of the flamingos in Tanzania.  It was such a different environment I have never heard of before with the pink lake with algae, salt flats and beautiful flamingos.  The little birds were so cute and as some of them struggled with the salt shackles I got upset.  It is set up like a mystery.  The mystery of the lake, flamingos and everything else.  I liked that and it really got to me! I wanted the cameramen to help the poor little birds, but I know why they couldn’t.  It was all so new and different and even though they didn’t give names to the birds there was a narrative.  It was good vs evil with the evil Macaques  preying on the weak and lonely.  It was so different, beautiful, inspiring and absorbing.  The score on Crimson Wing was also the best out of all the Disneynature films.

Here’s a video I did of the ranking

So that is the Disneynature films!  Have you seen any of them? What do you think?  Which are your favorites?  Please put in the comments section.

Disneynature 6: African Cats

african catsNext up in my review of the Disneynature films is African Cats.  It marks a change in the canon on how the films are told.  The previous films have been more standard documentaries.  In African Cats we get an attempt at a narrative with character names ascribed to the animals and a supposed story they are telling.  If you read my review of Monkey Kingdom which I did out of order they totally describe a social structure, conflict and personality to the monkeys.  I don’t know how much of that is hogwash but it does make the films more accessible for the average moviegoer that does not like documentaries.

African Cats tells the story of 2 families of ‘cats’ a single mom Cheetah named Sita with 5 cubs, and Mara and her mother Layla who are lionesses part of a pride. Like with the monkeys they attempt to show a contrast between the lonely isolated cheetahs and the pack of lions that do everything together.

african cats3Most of the movie is both cheetahs and lions trying to get food.  As both species are carnivores this means it is the most bloody of any of the Disneynature films I’ve seen to date.  Many animals are hunted and eaten with blood on the faces of the lions and cheetahs.  This might be upsetting to very small children but I asked my friends and they all agreed their kids can handle it.

The little cubs are so cute that it helps with those scenes.  Plus, the lions face their own foe that wants to eat them when they have to cross a river filled with crocodiles.  As my friend said “they get the whole “circle of life” thing”…

Speaking of circle of life I am a little surprised there wasn’t more analogies made to the Lion King.  I think James Earl Jones might have been a cool narrator instead of Samuel L Jackson.  Since they are doing a narrative it might have been fun to have a few winks at Lion King or maybe some of the  music thrown in?

african cats4Let’s start with the many positives of African Cats.  It looks amazing.  How they were able to get some of these shots I will never know.  You are watching these lions tear apart a zebra from limb to limb or a cheetah chase down an antelope or jackle and wondering how the filmmakers aren’t completely terrified?

african cats5The vistas of the African safari are stunning.  You get these amazing panning shots of herds of wildebeests and the cheetah sprinting at an insane pace.  Practically every shot I was left wondering ‘how the heck did they do that?’ and it almost looks fake it is so good.

african cats7 Also the question of the pride over the cheetah being solo has an interesting dimension for talking with kids about being self-reliant vs relying on others.  Working together vs being strong on your own.  Both have value and can be a functional part of nature as we see with the cheetahs and the lions.

If the scenes of carnage are a little much it could also be a chance to discuss nature with your children which is a good learning opportunity.

african cats2The downsides to African Cats is at 89 minutes it is definitely too long.  It could have had a good 15 minutes cut and not missed a beat.  There were sections where I started to lose interest- maybe we have one hunting sequence too many?

african cats6My other flaw is the narration can feel a little forced and heavy handed.  You can tell they were just testing out the adding a story to nature thing and there were segments I wished I could turn the narration off and just watch the animals.  I was not emotionally invested in the story like I was with the flamingo movie (still the best of Disneynature by a considerable margin) Crimson Wing. Samuel L Jackson is fine as the narrator but I don’t know if he has the gravitas needed for a project like this.  He sometimes seemed a little bored.

But flaws aside it is a beautiful film about some of God’s most amazing creatures.  The power of the lion and the speed of cheetah are awe inspiring.

Overall Grade- B

What about you guys?  Do you get upset seeing animal-on-animal hunting and killing?  Do your kids get upset by that kind of scene?  Any of you seen African Cats?  It’s a pretty good movie.