This one is entertaining and educational, but not Planet Earth entertaining (thankfully — read on).
Life is an adventure – especially for a newborn animal who has so much to learn.“Growing Up Wild” takes audiences to the wildest corners of the planet to tell the tales of five courageous animals as they tackle the very first challenges of their young lives. With a little guidance from sage family members, each must figure out how and where to find food, while learning to recognize the very real threat of danger. From their first steps of exploring their world to their final steps into independence,“Growing Up Wild” reveals the triumphs and setbacks of five young lives in which instinct, parental lessons, and trial and error ultimately define their destinies. Featuring the stunning imagery and iconic storytelling that makes Disneynature’s big-screen adventures an inspiring movie-going experience, “Growing Up Wild” brings home a special look at how similar and different these young lives can be.
I’ve always been a fan of Disney nature pieces, even if they were supposedly embellished in the past. They’ve always been well-shot and edited, plus the commentary always helped to make the adventures interesting. I remember seeing a few in the past involving squirrels, lemmings and whatnot. I remember wearing my mom’s VHS player down because of them (and because of Pete’s Dragon — more PD than otherwise), so it’s nice to see that Disney has come back with some more nature series that are shot well and keep kids interested in true Disney fashion. That said, most recently we had the opportunity to review a new Disneynature series called Growing Up Wild, which follows the the adventures of five different animal families and how they survive. It certainly brought the goods with a little sprinkle of past productions to push it along.
Now, please understand that this particular series isn’t near the level of something as big as Planet Earth or even Trials of Life. The gore and truth of the animals that generally come along with such documentaries is hidden from view with Disneynature pieces, as none of the families experience any loss during the documentary (thankfully). Instead of showing grotesque violence, most of what happens, even when one of the families is hunting, specifically a cheetah family, is hidden through well-written commentary that explains what happens without actually showing it. That’s valuable because if you have little kids in the household, then you don’t have to explain what happened to the innocent gazelle and why the mother cheetah’s face is covered in blood. No one wants that horrible conversation. Anyway, the content edges on brutality, but never gets there, which is important for me when my three year old is fascinated with the baby animals.
The educational value of the series is upped through the dialogue. Whomever wrote this documentary did a superb job of giving the most details without too much exposition. It’s ingeniously written for a younger audience, providing details of an animal family’s day-to-day life. yet still entertaining for adults. For example, when you get to the cute monkey family that lives at an abandoned temple, the commentary provides some background about what happens to an orphaned monkey without its parents, as well as what happens to competing monkey clans when they clash. It’s fascinating, easy to understand and endearing at times. All of the family stories are balanced out this way, with birth/life/intense situation/etc., and it helps add more to the experience.
On the narrative side, some of it does feel a bit forced, though mostly the situations each family runs into during their onscreen time seems legit. For example, when the documentary is discussing the lives of bears in Alaska, you get to see the awakening portion of their hibernation, what’s at stake when they wake and how other bears react to helpless cubs when bigger bears are hungry (it’s sad). It’s neat, informative and a bit intense at times. For the cheetahs you get the same thing, except other bears are replaced by Hyenas. The monkeys have drama of their own with competing clans and the struggle to stay dominate. Each group has similar obstacles in structure and triumphant victories at the end (it’s a Disney piece, what did you expect?), so don’t worry about the ultimate outcomes.
In the end, if you’re looking for a semi-intense, real animal experience, then you should take a look at Growing Up Wild. It does a great job of taking you through carefully constructed aspects of each group of five animal families without the brutality of nature accompanying it visually. Having a variety of kiddos in the household, each one (from 3-14 years of age) sat through it without me asking, which should tell you something about how well made this documentary is.