This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


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)

Posted by on

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]

Watch More

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

Posted by on

The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

Watch More

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

Posted by on

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.

Watch More

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

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

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

Watch More