Once upon a time, in a kingdom called Kumandra, people lived peacefully alongside dragons, who brought them water and protected them. But when a sinister plague known as Druun threatened the land, turning its people to stone, the dragons pooled their power, sacrificing themselves to save humanity, leaving behind only a gem to represent their faith and trust in the people they’d saved.
500 years later, the realm of Kumandra is no more. This last drop of dragon magic proved too tempting, and factions broke off, each desperate to hold the gem themselves. An attempt to steal it breaks the gem into pieces, unleashing the Druun plague monster once again. Raya, a young warrior, goes on an adventure to retrieve the broken pieces of the gem and resurrect the last dragon. It’s going to take more than just magic to heal the world, but trust and cooperation might be even harder to come by.
This is Disney’s latest animated offering, available to stream (at a premium) on Disney+, and if Raya is their most recent addition to the Disney Princess lineup, she’s a good one. Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is courageous, and adventurous. She plots to save herself, and her people. Sisu (Awkwafina) the dragon also has beautiful female energy, more giving and trusting than Raya, who, though brave, is also flawed, making for a far more interesting protagonist and princess.
The realm of Kumandra may be fictional, but Disney animators were inspired by Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos when establishing its unique culture and aesthetic. The film looks stunning, proving that Disney animation is back on top, with or without Pixar. The stellar voice cast includes Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, and Alan Tudyk, but the greatest interplay is between Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina, who share a wonderful, warm chemistry, emphasizing the film’s respect for female friendship.
The best part of Raya and The Last Dragon may be its subtle but timely message. Raya is a strong and skillful warrior, full of conviction and a sometimes impetuous desire to run straight into battle. Success in her mission, however, will depend more on conflict resolution; people who have long considered themselves enemies will have to put aside their differences in service of the goal they all have in common. Someone will need to be the first to cross partisan lines because the real threat is never the outside force, it’s the cracks sown between the people within. Raya’s fighting style is based on the Filipino martial art Kali but victory won’t require her weapons, she’ll need to arm herself with empathy and diplomacy instead.
Joe (Jamie Foxx) has jazz music in his soul and zero dollars in his bank account. His mother likes to brutally remind him of this little fact, and push him toward accepting a permanent position as a middle school music teacher. Just as he’s about to capitulate, an old student calls to offer him a wildly exciting opportunity to play with the wonderful Dorothea Williams. Ms. Williams (Angela Bassett) is impressed with his jazzing, and he’s engaged to play with her later that evening. But he doesn’t make it to later that evening; he dies on his way home.
Understandably, his soul panics on the way to heaven, and he decides to buck the system, running away from heaven or the great beyond or whatever you want to call it, but unable to get back to Earth/life. He hides out in a mentorship program instead, posing as a mentor soul assigned to help new souls find their spark. Soul #22 (Tina Fey) has been mentored by the very best for eons but has yet to find her spark. In fact, she expects that life is kind of a buzzkill, and she’s actively resisting it. Joe runs through all the obvious things like music and food, but it’s not until they sneak back down to Earth that things really start to gel for her. Of course, it probably helps that she can finally experience things in a human body, one that moves to music and tastes food and is delighted by the strange wonders of the human world. One small hiccup: in the melee, 22 took over Joe’s body, and Joe’s soul…ended up in a cat. Joe is desperate to make the Dorothea gig, but what use is it if he’s a cat? And 22 is deeply distracted by pretty much every single thing she encounters. She’s finally found her spark, but the problem is, she kind of promised it to Joe. You need a spark to get to Earth permanently, and taking 22’s is Joe’s only option. And until very recently, 22 had no use for a spark and no interest in life. She promised it freely. But now…well, what if 22 wants it too?
This movie is beautiful and tragic because life is beautiful and tragic. It is everything you want from a movie and nothing you expect from a cartoon – except it’s Pixar, so you dare to hope. They’ve done it before. They’ve done it again.
In talking about death, Soul is actually discussing how to live. Joe believes that his life will be fulfilled by achieving his dream of performing jazz, but 22 teaches him there’s plenty of pleasure and wonder to be found in simply living, in taking the time to look, listen, and learn. 22’s naivety and newness to the world inspires Joe to slow down and take a look around as well.
Directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers are not afraid to embrace the surreal and the intangible when examining the life well-lived, or to ask children to engage in a little introspection. A simple premise allows for a wonderful complexity of ideas embodying Joe’s existential crisis – which may be putting it mildly considering he’s dead and doesn’t want to be. But this spiritual scrutiny is able to include both the joy and the sadness, the fear, regret, obsession, insecurity, and the inspiration, ambition, passion, and life-affirming facets of personal philosophy because Pixar’s trademark playfulness makes it all feel non-threatening and really rather fun.
The voices are well-cast, the entities are well-designed, the movie looks amazing, but most important, it just feels good. It feels right, it feels warm, it feels like a hug from your past self to your future self, and I can’t think of a more perfect (cinematic) way to end the year.
Eleanor (Jillian Bell) is the youngest trainee and the only person who’s bothered to apply in decades; fairy godmothering just isn’t what it used to be. But head mistress Moira (Jane Curtin) keeps on teaching the same tried and true formula: 1. glittery gown 2. true love 3. happily ever after. Except humans stopped believing in ‘happily ever after’ a long time ago. No fairy godmother has been on assignment in years – the school’s about to close, the godmothers to be retrained as tooth fairies. Eleanor is devastated. Godmothering is all she’s ever wanted to do and now she’ll never even get the chance to start, so she takes matters into her own hands and finds a neglected assignment, a request for a fairy godmother that was never granted. She heads down to earth to fulfill the godmothering duties, and hopefully prove that godmothers are still in demand.
Of course, when she eventually finds herself in Boston, she finds not a 10 year old girl, but a full grown woman named Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) (apparently the letter was a little dated). What a disaster: in what way could a single mother in a dead end job possibly need godmothering? Well, both Mackenzie and Eleanor are about to find out because Eleanor refuses to go back to the motherland a failure.
Godmothered doesn’t exactly skewer the popular Disney fairy godmother formula, but it expands on what was traditionally a pretty narrow definition of happily ever after. Welcome to the modernization of Disney. They’ve been rehabbing their image and redefining the princess genre in movies like Frozen and even Ralph Breaks The Internet. Godmothered asks whether magic, wishes, and belief still have a place in modern society, and if not, what should take their place. It doesn’t quite go all the way as a ‘message’ movie but it does get some pretty great mileage out of good old-fashioned kindness and cooperation, which never go out of style.
Eleanor is charming as a fish out of water, a magical being in the land of humans for the first time, not unlike Enchanted Giselle or even Elf’s Buddy the Elf. Jillian Bell is simply enchanting, more grounded than flighty, but with enough fairy dust on her performance to give her wings. Director Sharon Maguire delivers a warm and feel-good story that is perfect for cozy family viewing.
Black Beauty has been adapted many times, but in Ashley Avis’ movie, Black Beauty is female, and so is the little girl who loves her.
When we meet Black Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet), she is a young Mustang running wild and free, just starting to be wary of new animals encroaching upon the land. Not wary enough, as it turns out; Black Beauty is captured and sent to live in a stable so she can be broken and sold. John (Iain Glen) who runs the stables and trains the horses isn’t a bad man, and he’s soon joined by his orphaned niece Jo (Mackenzie Foy). Jo is not your classic Horse Girl; in fact, she’s never ridden. But she must see a bit of herself in Black Beauty, who is also adjusting to new surroundings having just lost her parents and her home. Their bond is immediate and undeniable. Jo insists not on breaking Beauty, but on “partnering” her, based on friendship , respect, and gentleness. But the stables are a business, and Beauty is leased out to a wealthy family whose daughter is training to be competitive in dressage. Georgina (Fern Deacon) isn’t a natural horsewoman but makes up for what she lacks with spurs and whips. She is not kind to Beauty (nor to Jo), but sadly nor is she the worst owner that Black Beauty will encounter in her life.
Told from Black Beauty’s unique perspective (don’t worry, she’s not a talking horse, we merely hear her thoughts voiced by Winslet), we follow her as she’s transferred from home to home, owner to owner, many more pitiful or abusive than the last. Anna Sewell’s wildly popular novel from many moons ago opened people’s eyes to the mistreatment of horses, but it’s clear from Avis’ adaptation that things have not changed nearly enough for horses in nearly 150 years. Set in various modern American environments, Black beauty knows pain, overwork, and perhaps worse still, loneliness. The bond she shared with Jo endures and holding her memory in her heart is the only reason Beauty has the strength to go on.
I didn’t expect to like Black Beauty as much as I did. It doesn’t feel emotionally manipulative – Black Beauty is a horse, and though we inevitably anthropomorphize her, she isn’t asking to be pitied. But her indominable spirit is enviable and some pretty cinematography, we feel a sort of empathy, a sort of kinship with animals of all kinds, and an emotional attachment to Beauty herself, whose loyalty and resilience remind us of the four-legged family members in our own homes. Not without its flaws, Black Beauty is still a worthy version for 2020 audiences and a nice little treat on Disney+.
Not only will you find several dogs (and one human) dressed as Toy Story characters for Halloween (happy Halloween by the way), we’re celebrating Toy Story’s 25th anniversary with a giveaway – and we hope you’ll enter.
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The reason why this Mulan live-action movie is better than its Disney predecessors is that it unyokes itself from the animated film and doesn’t attempt a scene-by-scene remake. The story is similar, but is more faithful to the Ballad of Mulan myth, with fewer Disney-fications. While Cinderella and Beauty & the Beast were meant to appeal to the little girls who watched and loved the originals, now grown up and ready to be dazzled all over again, they inevitably disappointed because you can’t recapture that magic in a bottle. Mulan doesn’t try. It’s not made for the little girls we used to be, but for modern audiences used to stunning cinematography and well-choreographed action. The movie doesn’t seek to appease our inner princesses but to waken our inner warriors. Don’t compare this to the animated Mulan, compare it to Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, Tomb Raider, Captain Marvel, Rogue One.
Mulan (Yifei Liu) is a spirited young woman whose childhood antics were somewhat indulged by her family but now that she’s of marrying age, she needs to dampen that fire in order to make an auspicious match and bring honour to her family. That is a woman’s place, a daughter’s place: honour through a good marriage and by being a quiet, elegant, composed, invisible wife. Her chi needs to be hidden away; it is meant for warriors, not women. But you know how this story goes. When the enemy Rouran threaten the Chinese empire, each family must send a man to fight, and since Mulan’s father has no sons, he himself is the only option, even though he’s disabled from the last war. To save him, Mulan steals away in the night, and poses as a man to take her family’s place in the Chinese army.
Niki Caro’s Mulan looks slick as hell. The colours are fantastic, the reds so vivid they’re nearly engorged, Mandy Walker’s cinematography bringing lush, diverse landscapes into sharp focus.
I love how grounded in history this movie felt; the animated film tread rather lightly on the reality of Mulan’s every day life, but here her mother reminds her (and us) of the dire consequences should her spunk be taken the wrong way, that such a woman would swiftly be labelled a witch and put to death.
At boot camp, sheltered Mulan is bunking among rough young soldiers. They do not sing their way through a snappy montage of training, they push their bodies to the limit trying to get battle-ready in time to save their country and their emperor. Friendships are made but they are also tested. This is not some summer camp – these young men know that their lives will soon be on the line, and they will need to count on each other in order to survive not to mention succeed.
The action sequences are stunning. Clearly Yifei Liu and company are the real deal, expertly trained and extremely convincing. Any movie that has the guts to bench Jet Li as the emperor and let others perform the martial arts had better bring the goods, and Mulan does. It’s not breaking new ground, but it’s well-executed and exciting to watch.
My one complaint is that the movie’s so intent on delivering incredible visuals and epic battle scenes, it devotes precious little time to developing its characters. We know that Mulan is fiesty and brave, but little else. We know even less of the others. Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) is a fierce leader and knows raw talent when he sees it but if he has any life or thoughts outside of war we aren’t privy. If Honghui (Yoson An) is surprised by the intimate nature of his friendship with the new, very handsome, very soft-featured soldier, he doesn’t show it, or shy away from it. He doesn’t mention it at all. And the other soldiers are just caricatures, filling up the ranks. But I think the real loss is in our villains, a duo didn’t inspire as much panic as their potential first teased. The one is just your run of the mill bad guy – his want and his greed are in opposition to China’s, and he’s pretty ruthless in his pursuit, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, in movies and in life. The other is by far the more interesting and I wish we could have known more of her, particularly because the final showdown between herself and Mulan is low-key amazing and I think understanding her a little better would only have strengthened that moment. Still, 1998’s Mulan had a villain, a Hun named Shan Yu, with eyes as black as his soul, who inspired not mere fear but terror, and we didn’t know anything about him. True, I was a child then, but I’ve rewatched it recently, and his menace is chilling, even without much context.
I enjoyed the 2020 Mulan. The cast was great. The film was incredibly shot and almost ridiculously beautiful. It evokes just enough of the first film through detail and musical cues. It was a treat, a rarity among Disney remakes, one that actually justifies its existence by incorporating the best of the first but improves upon it too, gives it a more mature and serious tone, one befitting a warrior, and that’s exactly what she is.
You probably can’t even imagine a world in which Howard Ashman had never existed, and yet you probably don’t even know his name. He’s been dead nearly 30 years but you’re still singing his songs. Along with frequent collaborator Alan Menken, he wrote some of your favourite songs from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin – and those are just his Disney creds.
The night they won the Oscar for their work on The Little Mermaid, Howard whispered in Menken’s ear that they should sit down and talk once they were back in New York. He revealed that he’d been diagnosed with HIV a couple of years earlier, when they were deep into production on The Little Mermaid. His health was failing. He’d be dead just a year later. But he spent that year putting whatever energy and time he had left into making Beauty and the Beast into one of if not the most memorable and beloved Disney fairytales of all time. The studio flew Disney animators out to his home in upstate New York to suit his schedule but his illness was largely kept secret – many in the crew assumed they were dealing the diva temperament of someone with an Oscar-shaped hunk of gold on the mantle. They put up with it because he was a genius, because the team of Ashman & Menken were basically unbeatable.
In this documentary, lots of his close friends and colleagues reminisce about how easily story-telling came to him, especially in song form. Lyrics spilled out of him, getting the story to where it needed to be. We also see him in archival footage, at the Beauty & The Beast recording session, for an example, where an orchestra played along to Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach laying down the track to that most famous of songs. Meanwhile, a separate team of animators already hard at work on Aladdin were picking his brain. He died before Belle ever set foot in a theatre, let alone Jasmine, but producer Don Hahn visited him in hospital after a particularly glowing test screening. Menken was down to 80lbs, was blind, and could hardly speak. This the man whose voice first sang the songs that princesses would later make famous. He died 4 days later. When Beauty & The Beast hit theatres later that year, it was dedicated to “our dear friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.” Posthumously he would earn another four Academy Award nominations and rack up another win, but his legacy is much more than mere accolades. He was the voice of a generation, and his contributions are so timeless that they are rediscovered by each subsequent generation.
Howard’s friend, colleague, and Beauty & the Beast producer Don Hahn directs this documentary to say thanks to a man who is gone but clearly not forgotten.
The Lion King live action remake got one thing right: it remembered that it is primarily an African story. To be fair, it was likely the Broadway show that did this for them, but Jon Favreau had the presence of mind to follow their lead and cast actual black actors in the important speaking parts. The Disney cartoon from 1994 wasn’t motivated by authenticity and we as a culture failed to keep them honest. So when Favreau chose only one returning voice actor to serve as a link between the two films, James Earl Jones was both the obvious and the best choice. His is the voice of wisdom that runs throughout both films, but the 2019 version backs that shit up with a stellar cast that is as talented as they are representative: Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Chance the Rapper, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Eric André. But none were chosen more carefully or more brilliantly than our Simba and Nala, Donald Glover and Beyoncé; they aren’t just black actors but recent symbols of owning one’s blackness. If the The Lion King remake justifies itself at all, it’s by putting those two front and centre, sending a powerful message of just who should be King and Queen.
Black Is King is a visual album from genius multi-hyphenate Beyoncé. It reimagines the lessons of The Lion King for today’s young kings and queens in search of their own crowns. It is a love letter to her African roots while celebrating Black families.
Beyoncé is the undisputed Queen of Pop. Her ascension must have come with a lot of racism, overt and covert, attached – she would have been accused of exploiting her culture while also being asked to suppress it – problems the likes of Pink and Madonna and Lady Gaga never considered let alone experienced. This system seems to have caused or at least contributed to the internalized hatred of his race in her counterpart, King of Pop, Michael Jackson. And yet Beyoncé has not just transcended the challenges to her skin tone and hair texture, she has come out on the other side a powerful and vocal advocate for anti-racism. For many of us, the change in her was undeniable at the 2016 Super Bowl, a performance dubbed “unapologetically black,” incorporating dancers in Black Panther berets performing black power salutes, arranging themselves into the letter “X” for Malcolm, a homemade sign demanding “Justice for Mario Woods”, and Beyoncé’s own costume, said to be a tribute to Michael Jackson. The performance reflected the modern civil rights movement Black Lives Matter and handed us her rallying cry in the song Formation, which references slogans such as “Stop shooting us”, riot police, the shamefully neglectful official response to Hurricane Katrina which demonstrated that poor, predominantly black lives were clearly deemed not to matter. “I like my baby hair and afros. I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils, ” she sang, offering an education in the Black American experience.
Beyoncé has always been a proud African-American woman and artist. She pursued movie roles in Dream Girls and Cadillac Records. Her wondrously thick thighs became politicized in her Crazy In Love video. There were criticisms with racial undertones when she headlined Glastonbury in 2011. She sang At Last to the Obamas for their inauguration dance. She and fellow Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland started a charity to help Katrina survivors. Husband Jay-Z has been critical of the injustice of the profitable bail bond industry, with over 400,000 people who have not been convicted of a crime incarcerated simply because they can’t afford bail, often set at less than 5K. Beyoncé didn’t suddenly discover her blackness in 2016. Whether the political climate pushed her over the edge, or becoming a mother to her own Black daughter did it, or she realized that her success and popularity gave her immunity, Beyoncé started using her voice and her platform quite blatantly, and quite brilliantly. There are few people in the world with her kind of power, and she’s been able to snatch back the Black narrative from the fringes and help spotlight it centre stage. But it was also a risk to have her name synonymously linked with black rights, but as she states rather directly in this film, “Let black be synonymous with glory.” If 2016’s Super Bowl half time show was her coming out party, her 2018 Coachella performance cemented her mythic, iconic status. As the first black woman to headline the festival, her show was explicitly black, triumphantly black. Look no further than her documentary Homecoming to see how deliberately, lovingly, boldly she created every element in her show to be marinated in cultural meaning. She didn’t just pay homage to those who came before her, she used her two hour set to unpack a lesson in black music history. She literally used her platform to honour and recognize black art; the performance was a revelation to the predominantly privileged white audience of Coachella, but it created a real moment in time that reached into the hearts and souls of those who could fully appreciated it. Having already achieved pop royalty status, Beyonce is free to make the strong personal and political statements that have defined her career ever since. Her success is no longer measured by mere radio plays; freed from having to abide by what makes her white audience comfortable, she and Jay-Z are reigning from a throne of their own making. She no longer has to shrink or contain her blackness and it’s clearly been a boon to her creativity and craft. Black Is King follows in the footsteps of Lemonade, defiantly blazing her own path, and returning to the African desert that clearly still calls her name.
This visual album is of course an occular and audible delight. It jumps off from The Lion King, swapping lions for Black men and women. It highlights the extremely varied beauty of the African landscape, and of its people. There are set pieces in here where you can readily imagine the ka-ching of literally millions of dollars spent per second of film.
The Gift, Beyoncé’s Lion King-inspired album, takes us beyond Disney’s version of Hollywood’s Africa. Her original contribution to the film’s soundtrack, Spirit, is a gospel-charged anthem, but she didn’t stop there. She found up-and-coming African artists, songwriters, and producers to join her on the album, creating an international vibe with a strong and undeniable heartbeat.
The accompanying film is stuffed with imagery, implication, poetry and practice that feels like such an intimate declaration of love and admiration that I watched on the verge of a constant blush. Even Kelly Rowland felt it, being the recipient of Beyoncé’s sincere serenade, breaking the beaming eye contact with an overwhelmed giggle.
The visual album exists to toast beauty, observe beauty, create beauty, memorialize it. But a visual album from Beyoncé is to define and redefine it, to find beauty in new or forgotten spaces it, to celebrate a spectrum of beauty, to infuse it with ideas of culture and identity, to own it, to actually physically own it. And for that reason, I almost wish I could watch it at half speed. There are so many lavish tableaus set with precision and abundance but only glimpsed for a second or two; I want so badly to just live in that moment, to possess and savour it a minute longer.
And like a true Queen, she steps aside and allows herself to be upstaged by African collaborators, like Busiswa from South Africa, Salatiel from Cameroon and Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi from Nigeria. This album is a show of solidarity, an act of unity. She places herself among them, among the ancient beats and contemporary sound.
A thousand words in, dare I only broach the subject of fashion now? The sheer quantity of couture from Queen B is nearly numbing, except each look is so bold and unique you do your best to keep up to the dazzling, nonstop parade: Valentino, Burberry, Thierry Mugler, Erdem. But also a barage of Black designers from around the world, curated diligently and I’d guess rather exhaustively by Beyonce’s longtime stylist, Zerina Akers: D.Bleu.Dazzled, Loza Maléombho, Lace by Tanaya, Déviant La Vie, Jerome Lamaar, Duckie Confetti, Melissa Simon-Hartman, Adama Amanda Ndiaye…you get the picture. It’s MAJOR, every one of them re-imagining a wardrobe fit for an African Queen, their number so plentiful that no one garment or gown overpowers the beauty of their canvas: brown skin.
Beyoncé surrounds herself with Black beauties, including Naomi Campbell, Adut Akech, and Lupita Nyong’o, but also her own mother, Tina Knowles Lawson, and daughter Blue Ivy. Her family is often presented as a symbol of her strength, young twins Rumi and Sir making appearances as well, equating “kingship” with engaged fatherhood.
There is so much to unpack in this film, from the frenzied and joyous dancing of black bodies, to their posing as sculpture on pedestals, to the recreation of moments from her own storied career, there is more here than I can enumerate let alone appreciate. Like the star herself, Beyoncé’s concept of blackness is a hybrid of her ancestral lands and the country of her birth. It’s an amalgamation of black art and black history and a vision of black power, of ethnic and cultural splendor. And what a time to have dropped it, in a world where white people are just now opening their eyes to the racial injustice and inequality that has yoked people of colour for centuries, where black bodies are being discriminated against at best, black minds suppressed, black art appropriated, black experiences denied. And here is a woman who could easily coast on her laurels but instead is serving her people by framing the Black experience not only in a positive light, but a powerful and empowering one. Black Is King is not a cure for racism, not even a vaccine, but it may just be the booster shot of pride we all need right now.
We’ve had to cancel our 2020 Disney World trip due to COVID concerns; yesterday there were more deaths in Florida than there were cases in all of Ontario. Not to mention the Canada-U.S. border has remained closed to keep the virus at bay (Canadians worked hard collectively to shut things down and flatten the curve early on and we don’t want our efforts wasted by an errant American visitor, who’ve played so fast and loose with people’s health).
Disney World closed its gates for many weeks but is now reopened despite an alarming increase in new cases in Florida (and elsewhere of course; Florida is by no means the only American hotspot). For now, our only Disney travel will be in our dreams, and by trips on the nostalgia train with videos like this one.
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The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos sounds like it might be a classy film noir detective story from the 1940s where everyone smokes and matchbooks are almost always a clue. It’s not. It’s an early (2008) Disneynature documentary, before they developed the simple titling system that created such gems as “Bears” and “Penguins.” Today’s Disneynature docs are slick affairs, incredible photography paired with an anthropomorphic narrative that makes it fun to follow, and the big-name celebrity lending their voice sure doesn’t hurt.
But while The Crimson Wing is still working out this recipe for success, it’s still a pretty good watch.
Lake Natron in northern Tanzania is quite unique. Its water can often reach the same alkaline levels of pure ammonia. Thanks to a nearby volcano, a sodium crust forms on its surface. This is where a million crimson-winged flamingos are born (or lesser flamingos, if you will), live, and die, and have done so for nearly 20 million years. It’s a dramatic and unforgiving landscape. The salt builds up around little baby ankles, like shackles, that perilously slow them down, or shuts them down altogether (yeah, dead baby birds, it’s rough).
But the drive to stay alive and thrive is innate in all of us, and these flamingos aren’t chicken. They’ve kept the species going this long, hardship is in their blood, and the presence of a few cameras isn’t going stop them from living life. This is a rarely-photographed slice of Africa, a vast area of little besides drying salt that often gets left off even maps. But Disney gives us a bird’s eye view (ew, pun), and if you’re willing to tolerate the agonizing stamping out of the fuzziest, downiest life you’ve ever seen, young, hopeful little creatures who keep persevering long after being left behind, defying the odds, the predators, the searing heat – all just to succumb to salt accumulation around their dainty little ankles. If nature is the mob, then salt is the cement shoes, and soon their fluffy little bodies become just another bump in the road.
All right, enough moaning. I understand that death is part of life (sound like bullshit to anyone else?) and blah blah blah, why be upset about this one headstrong, floofy little chick when heavy rains literally washed out every egg in the nesting grounds so that the crew had to sit around on their own butts waiting for the flamingos to breed again.
People who live out in these crazy conditions for years at a time just to get one perfect shot of an innocent baby’s last breath must be a special kind of nut. We call them documentary film makers, but that’s definitely a euphemism for nut. And it’s not just because they used both snowshoes and hovercrafts to get around (although: nutty), it’s more that when the nearby volcano erupted during filming, they described it as “fortunate” when literally everyone else on the planet would have gone the other way on that one.
Anyway, the flamingos remain dignified even while being scrutinized by nuts, proving that whoever called them lesser got it wrong.