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Kicking off the new label, DisneyNature, Earth represents a return to the kind of filmmaking that won eight Oscars for Walt Disney between 1948 and 1960 under the umbrella name, True Life Adventures. This time, the focus is on three different animal families as cameras follow their remarkable migrations across the planet — literally — as the film was reportedly shot in 68 countries over seven continents. There's the polar bear mother trying to protect her cubs from melting ice caps and overbearing sun as the father desperately searches for food; there's the elephant and her calf trying to keep up with the rest of the herd through a stormy Kalahari Desert in search of water while fending off dangerous nighttime attacks by predatory lion packs; and finally there's the mother whale and her calf traveling 4,000 miles from the tropics all the way to Antarctica.


Beautifully narrated by James Earl Jones, Earth avoids the hokey, cutesy antics some nature films and television shows succumb to in their scripting. Jones' distinctive, elegant storytelling adds a moving layer to the overwhelmingly powerful images we see on screen. No cute talking animals in this film, folks.


New technologies and more sophisticated cameras have energized this kind of filmmaking since the more primitive days when Walt Disney was regularly turning these movies out. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield (Discovery's Planet Earth) take their cameras into places no one has seen before and get incredible footage, some of it heartbreaking, some of it thrilling, some of it funny. But with brilliant editing and a stunning musical score by George Fenton, it all adds up to a breathtaking motion picture achievement adults will enjoy just as much as the kids.


Only that we have to wait another year for the next installment of the series, Oceans, from the talented filmmakers who gave us the equally amazing Winged Migration.


Just in terms of its haunting effect, the richly-detailed sequence in which the slowly-starving father polar bear tries to get food by infiltrating a large pack of crafty walruses is both fascinating to watch and unforgettable in its impact. It's that unstinting realism and sense that we are watching nature as it really unfolds that gives Earth its gravitas. Another grainy nighttime scene — captured on hidden cameras — shows determined lions out to kill a baby elephant as his mom and her pack try to protect him. Incredible stuff.


If this seems familiar, Earth originally opened in several countries around the world in 2007 and had Patrick Stewart as narrator. Disney eventually picked up the film, retooled it and now launches its U.S. premiere on Earth Day. This is the first of six annual films all also intended for release around Earth Day including the aforementioned Oceans.


Although the BBC and the Discovery Channel are partners in this venture, this is a MUST on the big screen.



Bottom Line rated this film 4 stars.