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Disneynature Premieres a Digital Double Feature: Movie Reviews

Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
Disneynature Premieres a Digital Double Feature: Movie Reviews
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About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins has been a reporter with Oakville News since 2016. Covering local news and live events, he specializes in film, theatre, and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. Tyler is a proud graduate of Journalism and Performing Arts from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Disneynature’s two new family nature documentaries, Dolphin Reef and Elephant, might be the perfect new movies for these anxious times. Relaxing and bright, these pair of animal stories exude something increasingly hard to find while distancing in our homes: harmony.

There aren’t many new movies premiering these days with cinemas closed around the world. Disneynature, however, released a classic double feature on their Disney+ service for families to watch at home. But this wasn’t a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic; Disney’s had this secret plan for some time.

Both entries in this Disney double have been seen in the studio’s cannon before. Both dolphins and elephants has featured roles in 2009’s Earth, the premiere (and still highest grossing) Disneynature film.

What defines both new movies, despite their dual availability, is their independence from its studio. Both Dolphin Reef and Elephant work as full features, even if they somewhat lose their grandeur streaming on Disney+. Both are also nature stories about relationships between a mother and son in paradise worlds.

So which one should you see? One, the other or both? Here’s a look at both of the new Disneynature films available now.

The Dolphins are Dynamite

Photo: Buena Vista Pictures

Photo: Buena Vista Pictures

First is Dolphin Reef, the story of a young bottlenose dolphin growing up and living in Polynesia named Echo. Originally shot in 2017, Fothergill and Scholey’s undersea project was originally scheduled for theatres on Earth Day 2018. It got a limited release in France, but this long-delayed project is finally available now in the rest of the world.

Echo is but one part of the island ecosystem that maintains reefs across the Pacific Ocean. Dolphin Reef’s main subject is the interconnectivity of ecosystems, and how each species of plant and animal are co-dependant.

While there’s no shortage of dolphins, the titular reef is the real star. This is Disneynature’s first film truly centred on the the complex food web and social necessity of the environment. And the reef’s clarity is endlessly watchable.

The quality of underwater footage is simply outstanding. The camera’s cleanliness and the cinematographer’s expert planning capture truly impossible footage. Footage of dolphin pods is one thing – but the close-ups of tiger sharks and humpback whales are jaw-dropping.

It’s a shame we can’t see it on the big screen, but it’s worth seeing on the biggest television in your home. Add in Natalie Portman’s soothing presence and Martin Elsbury’s sharp editing and Dolphin Reef is a winner. This is the best single animal film in the Disneynature series since 2017’s Born in China.

Dolphin Reef

9 out of 10
G, 1hr 18mins. Family Nature Documentary.
Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey.
Narrated by Natalie Portman.
Now streaming on Disney+.

The Elephants are slightly less exciting

Photo: Buena Vista Pictures

Photo: Buena Vista Pictures

Elephant is the entirely new film, premiering worldwide today. The feature returns Disneynature to Africa for the first time since 2011’s African Cats. Elephants Shani and her infant son Jomo are travelling with their herd across the Kalahari Desert.

The elephant’s journey is exciting, and this is a great premise for a family nature documentary. The screenplay, unfortunately, is really hokey, with as much subtext as a picture book for preschoolers. It’s still factual, but a bit off-putting for adult viewers. It’s also much slower paced.

The grandeur of Elephant is underwritten by its juvenile tone, overly contrasting the majesty of these animals. The camerawork is still terrific, and the landscapes are beautiful. The style of script and the documentary visuals simply don’t sync. So too does this mismatch come across from narrator Megan, Duchess of Sussex.

It’s not that Megan doesn’t know how to effectively tell a story – she does. Her playfulness works in most of the scenes, and her storybook-like narration makes sense in an adventure story. (It too may have been unwise to cast a member of the English royal family to narrate a story set in Africa, but that’s another conversation.)

As a full package, Elephant is still enjoyable. Much of the footage seeing baby Jomo exploring the world is hilariously cute and Ramin Djawani’s music is great. Ultimately, Elephant is a story about memory and ancestry. With so many of us staying at home, it’s uplifting to see a story about the success of a community working through hardship.

Elephant

6 out of 10
G, 1hr 29mins. Family Nature Documentary.
Directed by Mark Linfield.
Narrated by Megan Markle (credited as Megan, Duchess of Sussex).
Now streaming on Disney+.

Disneynature has a new home

Both films are excellent programming choices for Earth Month and for families looking for variety in their daily screen time. The tone of both films is soothing, well-composed, and finds the balance between education and entertainment.

If you have the time, both films in the double feature are worth seeing. I recommend starting with the slightly larger Elephant, and then taking a short break between the two. If you only want to see one, start with the superior Dolphin Reef.

Whichever you choose, Disneynature has created two fine motion pictures. While exciting to see in theatres, they’ve never made huge profits at the box office. With Disney+, Disneynature may have found a more sustainable home where these quality titles can thrive.

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