Saturday, April 25, 2009

Disney, BBC, Earth, my art, and the poor Polar Bears...

Yesterday I went on a class field trip with 50 (more or less) totally insane and excited second-graders to see Disney's 'Earth' movie. Not going into just how insane the kids were, I will say that most of them calmed down once the movie started, enraptured by the beautiful scenes.

Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, the writers/directors of both the Disney film and the BBC documentary 'Planet Earth', stated that it had been their vision to create them simultaneously.

On one hand, this duel project is fantastic, as it makes the amazing filming accessible to a broader audience (i.e. 50 screaming schoolchildren), but I couldn't help but think about how much cash is being stuffed into executives pockets as a result of these great projects. (But then, perhaps that's just me being bitter after working in marketing at a fund of hedge fund for three years?)

Also, as Richard Nilsen of The Arizona Republic wrote:

"'Earth' is the BBC documentary TV series 'Planet Earth' run through the Disney meat grinder and turned into fast food."


He continues:

"The visuals are still stunning. The TV series contains some of the most amazing and beautiful nature footage ever shot. Dizzying images of birds flying over Mt. Everest and underwater shots of elephants swimming or lions congregating at night for the kill. The shot of the great white shark leaping out of the water and scooping up a midair lunch of seal will make your jaw drop.

But in 'Earth,' it has all been dumbed down, edited into heart-warming little vignettes with baby animals looking unbelievably cute and tender-eyed, and then slathered with some of the most cloying, cliche-ridden narration ever put to microphone."

I have to agree.

"It's quite a comedown," Richard continues. "The original series was narrated in Great Britain by the legendary David Attenborough. When it was aired on the Discovery Network in the U.S., that narration was gutted and replaced with a more conventional script read by Sigourney Weaver. Now, it is James Earl 'Voice of God' Jones reading such hackneyed lines as elephants 'on an epic quest for food and water,' and cheetahs and gazelles in 'the drama of hunter and hunted.'

Worse, at certain moments, the narrative is actually offensive, as when a bird of paradise is filmed in its mating dance and Jones is required to say, 'Get down, baby,' with a jazz track playing in the background. Meant to be funny, it comes across as marginally racist, a not too-distant cousin to 'feets don't fail me now.'

The movie is clearly aimed at children. But the dialogue is so bland and platitudinous that even a 5-year-old is likely to turn his head and utter an exasperated 'oy.'

Almost as bad is the hackneyed symphonic score that Mickey-Mouses every emotion we are manipulated into feeling."

Richard ends by saying, "The word 'Disneyfication' is not a compliment."

True that.

I was going to write my own review of the Disney film, but with Richard already having written all of my own thoughts, there's just no need.

I will hand this to Disney, however... For each ticket purchased this past Earth Week, one tree will be planted. That's great, huh?

I wonder, however, how large a 'footprint' is created by the movie theaters every time they show the film? Or, *gasp*, how large a 'footprint' was pounded out over the Earth in the filming of the documentary and movie?

Perhaps, for the sake of sanity, it's best not to think about such things?

I think a lot about the plight of the planet. From the time I was in middle school, when I helped spearhead a campain against using polystyrene in public schools, I've been conscious of conservation issues. Granted, in New York I've slacked on my saving-the-world duties. Here, even recycling is difficult. I have friends who live in apartments that are not visited by city workers who pick up recycling. Hm. Come to think of it, I'm not sure of the laws and policies, if any, that the city has in place... I'll have to work on finding out.

I've been (slowly) working towards completion of a 'Last Supper' canvas, on which I'm embroidering various animals.

Granted, unicorns, as far as I know, have never existed (ask me sometime about my trip to the zoo to see them;), but all of the others have. The Dodo has been extinct for quite some time, and some of the others, though not extinct, are on their way out.

The Polar Bear, for example...

Disney's 'Earth' really hit home about the "tragic plight" of the Polar Bear. This huge carnivorous animal is often used to illustrate the affects of rapid climate change. I threw one on my canvas because I am also bothered by the loss of this animal's habitat (ice).

My daughter likes the canvas very much, and last night we not only talked about it, and what it means to her (it makes her "happy and sad," she said), but we talked for a spell about Polar Bears in general and what their eventual demise means.

I won't go over all of the points we talked about. Most of them are things every person knows. But I did think it especially poignant when Anevay said, in tears, "I'm glad that the Polar Bears will have been on the planet while I'm on it. It'll mean more then when they're dead."

Basically, Anevay was saying that she'll feel a connection to these animals that she might not to creatures already extinct.

I appreciate that Anevay is sensitive to conservation issues. It's hard, at times, to know what to tell her. In the last year, we've been reading books about rapic climate change, and talking more and more about the affects both humans and natural patterns have on the planet. We've also been visiting zoos- not only to see animals from around the world, but to relax.

And yet...

I've had a problem with zoos for many years.

In college, I took a couple of biodiversity courses. I understand the arguments for keeping endangered animals in captivity. I know the importance of maintaining the planet's biodiversity, and I respect and commend the effort to promote conservation through education (which many zoos do, and do well). On the other hand, I feel that to do this in many ways just appeases human guilt over the killing off of species and the destruction of habitat. I guess I have a hard time seeing how keeping animals in captivity is any different from maintaining a 'freak-show'.

Yep, yet another posting that is all over the place. Sorry, people. Maybe I should have just written 'Happy Earth Week'!

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