Moon about penguins and parrots all you like, but An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore’s dissertation on global warming, sets up the big environmental picture, and gets the sirens going. No matter what kind of gag orders are placed on using the words “climate change,” the burden of unassailable evidence says the wheels have already been set in motion for making our planet essentially uninhabitable and no amount of corporate or political prevarication will make that fact go away.
To date the second-largest-grossing documentary ever made (after Fahrenheit 9/11), this French-made, Morgan Freeman–narrated tribulation observes the Antarctic emperor penguins as they traverse miles of open ice to mate, lay eggs, and hatch chicks. Fascinating for at least a while, March of the Penguins also indulges in cutesy music cues, anthropomorphic stereotypes, and hilarious assumptions about the feelings of inexpressive marine wildlife.
Easily the most globally integrated entry in the postmod New Cartoon Wave, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, about a globetrotting, dysfunctional family of wildlife documentarians, made for a fairly rote feature, in which poachers are battled and defeated. Still, there’s no denying the charm of bespectacled, braces-ridden, homely wild child Eliza (Lacey Chabert), who can speak to animals—and who emerges as one of the most stirring heroines in contemporary media. With Tim Curry.
A French film made with minimal dialogue and dubbed into scores of languages, The Bear is a zoological odyssey that follows a real orphan Kodiak cub who latches onto a full-grown male and attempts to steer clear of hunters. Tremendous unspoiled locales (Canada, the Italian Alps), cute animals, and at least one dramatic confrontation between man and animal that’ll make your eyes bulge.
Will insects inherit the earth? Of course they will, eventually, but this feverish quasidocumentary, narrated by a fictional scientist played by Lawrence Pressman, makes the case that it’ll happen sooner rather than much later, since bugs are shown to be many times tougher and more adaptable than any other life on the planet. The facts are disquieting by themselves, but The Hellstrom Chronicle whips up a frenzy of entophobia with galling sequences of insect warfare and predation. Yuk.