The first of what we can safely assume will be many features to come from the new Disneynature line of films, earth is basically a ninety minute re-edited version of the BBC's famous documentary series, Planet Earth. Somewhat sanitized and obviously re-cut with younger viewers and families in mind, the bulk of the footage here will be pretty familiar to those already well versed in what the BBC originally offered us, but some new, never before seen bits give this a bit more interest than it might have otherwise.
Narrated with what can only be described as a majestic boom by the instantly recognizable James Earl Jones, earth gives us a look some of the most amazing plants and animals to ever roam the face of this planet. The focus here is a bit tighter than Planet Earth in that it delivers a lot of animal footage, the kind that kids love - the kind that is either tense and exciting or that makes you say 'wow, look how cute that critter is.' The exposition from the BBC series, that came courtesy of David Attenborough or Sigourney Weaver depending on whether you watched the BBC version of the redubbed Discovery Channel version, has also been brought down to a more kid friendly level. What that means is that instead of getting highbrow insightful commentary, you get a simpler explanation of what's happening mixed in with some periodic comic relief. This will likely annoy some but remember, this is meant for younger kids, and on that level it works surprisingly well. The Disney team has done a very good job of compiling a sort of Planet Earth's greatest hits for those who may not necessarily have the required attention span for the series that spawned this feature.
So what can parents/families/kids expect from earth? We learn how a few different species survive in their environments, starting with some polar bears that are having a tough time finding enough food to eat. We see a herd of elephants having to contend with a pride of hungry lions as they make their way across the desert and we see some whales swimming through the Arctic Ocean trying to avoid predators and find enough food. Basically, we learn about the cycle of life, and while there isn't any excessively gory footage here or anything that a child shouldn't see or learn about even at a young age, there are times where it can get a little intense - the perfect example being the beautifully shot footage of a leopard hunting down and eating a baby gazelle who, one his captor gets his paws on him, literally just gives up and dies. The scene in which a father polar bear on the brink of starvation heads right into the thick of a massive group of walruses, forced to find food or die, can also get a little hairy, particularly when we see the walruses are not afraid to use their tusks to defend themselves. It's not at all a constant barrage of doom, gloom and poor eaten animals, however - in fact, those are exceptions rather than rules as we also witness all manner of remarkable nature footage such as a mother duck teaching her ducklings to fly by basically forcing them to jump out of a tree, some wild footage of great white sharks doing their thing, birds and more.
The whole hour and a half's worth of content is incredibly well shot and set to a beautiful score. Jones' kid friendly narration maintains a respective tone and while this won't (or, can't) ever reach the epic scope of Planet Earth, it is, on its own merits, a beautiful production. It's just as educational as you'd want it to be and far more entertaining than you'd expect it to be, making it an excellent choice to show to curious kids wanting to learn more about the realities of the world around them. The narration compliments the footage perfectly and allows you to find enough of an attachment to the animals we follow - all essentially characters in their own right - and to care about what happens to them. As we learn about what happens to them, in turn we learn more about earth itself, resulting in one of the most intelligent and beautifully made kid's films to hit screens in some time.The DVD
Disney's earth looks very good in this AVC encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Basically, if you liked the way that Planet Earth looked on Blu-ray, you'll like how it looks here on this release as there doesn't appear to be much of a difference between the two presentations. Detail can vary a bit from one shot to the next but generally it is quite strong and at times almost breathtaking. Eagle eyed viewers will spot some mild compression artifacts in some of the darker scenes and it's hard not to notice the banding that seems to pop up in a lot of the otherwise incredibly impressive slow motion footage but by and large despite these minor inconsistencies the image impresses far more often than it doesn't. color reproduction can be quite beautiful, sharpness and contrast look good, and even if there's a bit of shimmering in a few spots the big picture holds up well and the transfer is a strong one.Sound:
The primary track on this Blu-ray release is a beautiful sounding English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. While there isn't much 'action' in the mix as the film is primarily made up of narration and music, the orchestral score that fills it all in sounds tremendous. There's a nice, noticeable strength to the low end while the ambient noises that are present here sound clean, clear, and sometimes surprisingly strong - some of the bird chirps are almost piercing! James Earl Jones' regal sounding narration has a nice weight to it and it comes through with the amount of succinct clarity you'd expect and everything is nicely balanced and sounding good throughout the duration of the film. Standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes are offered up in French and Spanish will optional subtitles are provided in English SDH, French and Spanish.Extras:
While you can't call this a super stacked deluxe special edition, Disney has supplied some moderately interesting supplements to compliment this package starting with the filmmaker annotations which are exclusive to the Blu-ray release. This picture-in-picture track provides some interesting anecdotes and trivia about the making of the production by way of some good behind the scenes clips and interviews with the people who put all of this together. This is actually pretty interesting stuff as there was obviously some pretty serious thought put into editing the Planet Earth material down into a more family friendly annotated version - and that's a large focus of what's discussed and analyzed here.
From there, check out the forty-three minute documentary, The Earth Diaries, which is a really rock solid behind the scenes look at the filming of this material. Presented in HD, this is a very cool look into the trials and tribulations that the filmaker's endured while trying to capture all of this footage out in the wild. There's some great material here and if you at all enjoyed the feature, you'll likely find this very worthwhile.
Aside from that, the Blu-ray also contains an interactive menu that allows you to click on a few pinpointed locations that are present on the image of the Earth that makes up the bulk of the menu screen. By doing so, you'll find some interesting trivia or clips relating to that specific location. It's not a big thing, but it's a nice little extra that isn't advertised on the back of the packaging that is actually kind of cool and fairly easy to overlook.
Also included in the package is a standard definition DVD containing the exact same material (aside from the filmmaker annotations) as the Blu-ray disc. Disney's practice of doing this has irked some, but let's face it, these releases are primarily geared towards younger kids who may want to take the disc with them when travelling and who may not necessarily require the HD clarity that older viewers appreciate. So there is a logic to it aside from the convenient price increase that it obviously incurs.Final Thoughts:
While adult viewers will no doubt rather invest the time required to fully enjoy Planet Earth rather than watch this more sanitized kid-friendly abbreviation, earth is a great way to introduce less patient younger viewers to some truly amazing material. The feature plays well in this form, particularly if watched with kids, and it's engrossing for viewers of all ages. Disney's Blu-ray release isn't packed with extras but it's got a few goodies tucked away within its menus and the audio and video presentation leaves little room for complaint. All in all, considering its target audience, this is a pretty solid release that truly earns its recommendation.