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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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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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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