- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Two years ago, the Discovery Channel began airing “Planet Earth,” an 11-part miniseries co-produced with the BBC that took an intimate look at a variety of habitats all over Earth, from the Arctic wilds to the Kalahari Desert to deep within caves. Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, the show was both fascinating and a feast for the eyes; it remains one of the best-selling items in Amazon’s Blu-ray store.

The real strength of “Planet Earth” was that the filmmakers managed to capture a number of things on camera that had never been filmed before - a snow-leopard hunt, for example, or the mating dances of a variety of passion birds. It didn’t shy away from the brutality of natural life; in one episode, a group of chimpanzees is shown attacking and cannibalizing an enemy group.

“Earth” is the first movie from the Walt Disney Co.’s new label, Disneynature, and it consists of re-edited vignettes from the BBC/Discovery Channel documentary, narrated by James Earl Jones.

As the miniseries was condensed to a 90-minute movie, however, most of that interesting material was jettisoned in favor of animals everyone already knows about and loves. Disneynature’s “Earth” is dedicated mostly to polar bears, elephants and humpback whales, with a few other animals mixed in to show the planet’s diversity. The focus of the series is now on giant animals and their young instead of the fascinating, rarely seen wonders of the planet we inhabit.

As one might expect, the show has been neutered somewhat in the course of its compression. It doesn’t skirt around the fact that animals die - the central parable of “The Lion King,” the circle of life, is invoked - but the kills are less frequent and are not shown to completion.

Mr. Jones’ baritone injects instant gravitas into the proceedings, and it makes sense that an entirely new script would be written because this is meant to be a stand-alone project. Still, those familiar with the original miniseries will almost certainly miss Miss Weaver’s steady, professorial tone. Mr. Jones isn’t bad, just different.

Those expecting a broadside against evil, polluting corporations and the dangers of man-made climate change will be disappointed by “Earth,” as it takes a refreshingly neutral tone in that regard.

“Our planet is warming,” Mr. Jones intones, later noting changes in animal behaviors “as weather patterns change.” These are pretty much accepted facts, but the writers did not feel the need to jump to the conclusion that only mankind and its wicked behavior are to blame for the changes.

TITLE: “Earth”

RATING: G

CREDITS: Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield

RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes

WEB SITE: www.disney.com/nature

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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