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Aw, it thinks it’s people! The eternal issue of narrating nature docs.

Aw, it thinks it’s people! The eternal issue of narrating nature docs. (photo)

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Just in time for Earth Day, here comes “Avatar” again….wait, I mean, here comes “Oceans,” the second installment in the newly rebooted Disneynature series. As AV Club critic Scott Tobias pointed out, “For consecutive years, Disney has honored land (EARTH) and water (OCEANS) on Earth Day. This strikes me as short-sighted. What next?” Indeed.

When Walt Disney kicked-off the True-Life Adventures in 1948 — first as two-reel doc shorts, graduating to features with 1953’s “The Living Desert” and rounding off with 1960’s “Islands of the Sea” — he spread it out between micro-focused locals: desert, prairie, the wilderness in winter. As it happens, Disneynature has a plan (including the delightfully titled “African Cats: Kingdom of Courage”) for one nature doc a year.

After the Disney True-Life empire collapsed, the nature documentary was for years the province of TV with sporadic exceptions. Presumably Disney was inspired to reinvigorate the genre after the 2005 success of “March of the Penguins,” which leaves us with a problem — one of sober narration. When “March of the Penguins” had its original release in France, the penguins narrated from “their perspective”: one adult male (Charles Berling from “Summer Hours,” no less), one adult female and one baby penguin. For English release, however, we were given a portentous voice-over by Morgan Freeman. I’m guessing the intent to strip away charges of gratuitous cutesiness, but with its assumptions of parental love and nobility, the English narration was just as condescending in a different direction.

04222010_wasp.jpgThe main complaint in reviews of “Oceans” is that Pierce Brosnan’s po-faced voice-over doesn’t really bring anything to the party. This has always been an issue with nature docs — it’s always tempting to either be ponderous or reduce animals to character types people can more easily relate to.

Frankly, if you’re going to anthropomorphize the animals (something that annoyed Werner Herzog so much he gave us the world’s first suicidal penguin in “Encounters at the End of the World”), there’s not much wrong with the unrepentently for-your-entertainment approach of the old True-Life Adventures, which — whatever their faults — made no attempt to conceal the fact that they were actively Disneyfying nature. Take 1953’s “The Living Desert,” which — in its most infamous sequence — starts with basic footage of a scorpion mating dance and runs it forwards, backwards and pretty much any which way in time to an unbelievably cheesy square-dance vocal. It’s ridiculous, but at least it’s entertaining and more straightforward than trying to pretend animals have the same psychology as people. (The True-Life series, while shot by veteran photographers, was sculpted into shape by veteran animator James Algar, best known for “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” — raw footage was the grist for the Disney sensibility.)

Here it is, the scorpion square dance. It’s not quite KittehRoulette, so tread carefully. In fact, if you’ve seen “Twin Peaks,” the owl bobbing its head in time to music might scare the hell out of you:

[Photos: “Oceans,” Disneynature, 2010; “The Living Desert,” Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 1953]

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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