Disney // 2011 // 80 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 1st, 2013
Life is the greatest adventure of all.
I've never warmed to these DisneyNature feature documentaries. Essentially Disney has taken sprawling nature explorations like Planet Earth and chopped them into shorter far less interesting features. The good news is Wings of Life is one of the first films that appears to be not just a portion of a much larger story. The bad news is director Louis Schwartzberg's (America's Heart & Soul) 80-minute adventure will greatly test the patience of most viewers, young and old alike.
Wings of Life is a story that features things happening in slow motion. Bees flying, flowers blooming, and hummingbirds flapping. There are bats pollinating flowers, farmlands filled with monarch butterflies, and forests thriving with caterpillars, ants, and other things you most definitely don't want to find inside your sleeping bag. It's all presented to rather tranquil music and seems to drag on endlessly. It's not that there's nothing of value here, it's just that it's all presented with so little aplomb it's as if the film is moving backwards. As the tale comes to a close, we're given a look at what the world would be like without plants (answer: not good), and of course the whole thing is wrapped in such a heavy-handed environmental message it feels like a tofu sledgehammer against the viewer's skull.
I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that some portions were truly awe-inspiring. One sequence features millions of monarch butterflies filling hundreds of trees (so many that the trees actually bend), and then taking flight in a flurry of orange and black wings. Some of the slow motion sequences offer viewers a glimpse at what it's really like for a bat or bee to pollinate a flower; these moments are certainly worth sitting through, although they lose their luster fairly quickly. There's only so many times I can watch a caterpillar eat a leaf and spin a cocoon before I start to yearn for something more.
While the visuals in Wings of Life are spectacular, the narration leaves a lot to be desired. I made this exact same complaint in my review of Warner Bros' To The Arctic. Here Meryl Streep's new age book-on-tape voiceover narration is about as stimulating as a bottle of sleeping pills, which is counterproductive to the visuals. While we see amazing images of swooping birds and amazing insects, the narration would make you believe you're watching a scrolling version of the phone book. To make things worse, Streep takes on the character of various flowers, reciting kitschy dialogue like, "I...am a flower. I am here to help pollinate the world." While a gifted and Oscar winning actress (The Iron Lady), Streep just doesn't cut it when it comes to narrating nature documentaries.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen, this is a stunningly beautiful transfer that absolutely sparkles. There are gorgeous scenes of colorful insects, lush prairies, and shimmering lakes that nearly jump out of the screen. Nary a defect or imperfection to be found, Wings for Life (Blu-ray) is a near perfect reference quality disc. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is very good, mostly getting a boost out of composer Jan Holzner's bouncy and lush film score. There is some effects work in the background, but it's mostly Streep's narration and Holzner's music that propel this track. Also included are Dolby 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish, as well as English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles. The only bonus features are a short montage of other DisneyNature films, a sneak preview of their next film Bears, and a standard def DVD copy.
I'm sure there are audiences who will absolutely love Wings of Life, likely the same people who think the Disney company can do no wrong. While I wouldn't classify this film as "wrong," I'd certainly file it under "boring" and "lackluster." There are a number of pulse-pounding, thought-provoking documentaries in the marketplace. This isn't one of them.
Never takes flight.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Sneak Peek
* DVD Copy