Throw Judge Eric Profancik a fish and watch him bounce a ball off his nose.
Our review of Knut & Friends (Blu-ray), published December 24th, 2009, is also available.
The True Story of a Polar Bear Who Captivated the World
Babies are adorable. No, not human babies but animal babies. It's part of Mother Nature's grand design to make the young look cute and innocent as to invoke a protective instinct for them. Who could hurt a baby animal? Everyone adores them, and zoos have discovered that they are a great draw. People flock to see them, and occasionally a special baby captures the world's attention. This is the story of one of those occasions.
Facts of the Case
On December 5, 2006, two polar bears were born at the Berlin Zoo. The parents rejected them so zookeepers stepped in to try and raise the cubs themselves. This was a daunting challenge as it had been decades since the zoo had successfully raised a cub out of infancy. Sadly, one of them died almost immediately; but his brother, Knut (pronounced "k-newt") would survive and thrive. Raised by Thomas Dörflein, Knut would capture the hearts of Berliners and the world alike. Knut & Friends is the story of Knut's journey from cub to bear. Juxtaposed against Knut's tale are two other stories. The first is of a mother polar bear and her three cubs in the arctic. The second is of brother and sister brown bear cubs without a mother in a Russian forest. The three tales twist and interrelate to compare Knut's relatively easy life to the hardships of wild bears.
Do you remember 2007, the year of Knut? I don't either, but I have a vague recollection of a story that led to worldwide outrage where it was questioned whether Knut should be raised or left to die. As evidenced by this disc, he lived. Beyond that, I didn't realize there was much ado about the baby bear. I'm not apt to focus much attention on such things, especially when said bear is on the other side of the world. Yet, when I saw the trailer for Knut & Friends I wanted to give it a spin since Knut is absolutely, positively adorable.
I'm not one to talk during a movie. I prefer to just sit back and watch, both in the theater and at home. If I want a running commentary, I'll see if the disc includes one. But, as I watched this perfectly predictable story I found myself talking quite often. It wasn't in dismay over the plight of the wild bears. Honestly, it was because Knut was just too darn cute and I couldn't stop "oohing" and "aahing" and commenting on it. If you like baby animals being adorable beyond comprehension, then this disc is for you. Knut is irresistible. (Pardon my uncharacteristic, sappy gushing.)
Perhaps you want a bit more out of a disc than 90 minutes of sweet animal antics? Then you'd prefer to focus on the relationship between Knut and his keeper, Thomas. The bond formed between the two, coupled with Thomas' steadfast dedication to the cub, is heart-warming and wonderful. Watching Thomas raise the cub, teach him basic skills, and be there all hours of the day and night will inspire you. It might even make you think about how much effort you put into things in your daily life and how lax we are.
As in all things, as cute and sweet as Knut's tale is, Knut & Friends isn't a perfect story. While I understand the concept of wrapping Knut's saga around two others, it doesn't work. First, Knut's story grabs you from the get go and you are eager to see more of the cub and how his development is progressing. So every minute you are away with the other bears, you want to get back to Knut. These other bears become a distraction. Second, whether I've actually seen the footage of the other bears or not, it feels like I've seen the stories before. We've all seen nature programs on the dangers and perils of mama polar bear and her cubs in the dead of winter, and we all know the troubles any other young bears can get into without a mother. Those two tales don't feel fresh and new, adding further distraction from the story you really want to follow.
Another negative aspect of the disc is the extremely cheesy narration. The narrator ties all three stories together; but instead of using a documentary-type voice, "Wind" is personified and given voice. The Wind acts as an observer to all three locations, which isn't a bad idea, but it's too corny for its own good.
This disc from Image Entertainment is an acceptable, average offering to the digital masses. The 1.78:1 anamorphic video starts off with a few blatant moments of shimmering but quickly settles down. Though Knut & Friends could be categorized as a nature program, the video doesn't come across as vibrant and lush as other true nature programs. Nonetheless, colors are accurate and lifelike, whites are crisp and well-defined and blacks are a respectable inkiness. Detail is average, at times quite nice (e.g. all the little hairs on Knut) while at other times it's a bit soft. Audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that doesn't have much to do. Outside of the Wind's narration, there's little dialogue to convey; instead, you get lots of squeaks and squeals from the young bears. Surrounds get little use, just a bit of ambience from the howling arctic winds and the soundtrack. And the LFE really has nothing to do. I never noticed any errors or distortion across any channel.
There are no bonus materials on the disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I found myself positively smitten with Knut and amazed by Thomas. When I did some quick research I was very saddened to hear what happened after the events on the disc. It was bittersweet to see that, once again, life is cruel and good things never last.
Knut & Friends is a decent idea that doesn't fully work. If the story stayed with Knut and didn't try to juxtapose him with others bears, then we would have had a better story. Knut's tale is simple yet sweet, and his youthful ways will bring a smile to your face. As in all nature programs, not all events can be pleasant. We must always have an example of the harsh realities of life in the wild, and this story is no different. Is that harshness too rough for the potential younger viewers of this disc? Not really. The negatives are quickly mentioned and never focused on. You don't have to worry about scarring any young viewers. Instead, they can delight in the playful ways of a young polar bear, lovingly raised by a dedicated man at the Berlin Zoo.
Knut & Friends is hereby found guilty of being ridiculously
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