I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.
Title: The Elephant Whisperers Release Date: 8 December 2022 Director:Kartiki Gonsalves Production Company: Sikhya Entertainment Summary/Review:
Filmed over several years at Theppakadu Elephant Camp in the Mudumalai National Park in southern India, this short documentary follows the life and work of a couple named Bomman and Belli, The couple, who are married during the course of the filming, help rehabilitate lost and abandoned elephants. The stars of the movie are Raghu, a young elephant who bonds with Bomman and Belli, and Baby Ammu, and even younger elephant abandoned and brought to the camp.
The love Bomman and Belli have for the elephants is strong and the movie is full of sweet moments. According to the text on the screen they are also the first people to successfully raise an orphaned elephant to adulthood, so they’re doing good work. Elephants are amazing, seemingly improbably creatures, and it’s such a joy to watch them in this film.
Title: Babe Release Date: August 4, 1995 Director: Chris Noonan Production Company: Kennedy Miller Productions Summary/Review:
There must be kinder dispositions in far-off gentler lands.
For a gentle barnyard comedy about a piglet who learns to herd sheep, Babe goes to some dark places and can be quite subversive. The movie begins in a factory farm and make no bones about pigs be raised without sunshine and separated from their mothers at a young age. This is a family film, nonetheless, but one that doesn’t condescend to children or avoid situations and words that they may not initially understand. I was surprised that Babe was written and produced by George Miller, the creator of the Mad Max series, but upon this rewatch I realize that there’s a tenderness at the heart of the darkness of Babe that’s not all that different from Mad Max: Fury Road, despite Babe’s more idyllic setting.
Babe (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh and played by 46 different piglets and an animatronic created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) is the runt of the litter at a factory farm randomly chosen for a “Guess the Weight” contest at an agricultural fair. Babe ends up on the farm of Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell) presumably to be fattened for Christmas dinner. But Babe forms a bond with the sheepdog Fly (voiced by Miriam Margolyes) who becomes his surrogate mother after her own puppies are adopted away. As a result, Babe becomes a sheep-herding pig, and one who does his job with kindness rather than asserting authority. This talent is soon recognized by the quirky Farmer Hoggett. Hijinks ensue.
The movie is beautifully filmed, soaking in the lush Australian landscape (albeit people have American accents and drive on the right side of the road, so this could be anywhere). Credit must be given to Magda Szubanski as Arthur’s wife Esme Hoggett and Russi Taylor as Duchess, “the bad cat bearing a grudge,” for being the MVPs of dialogue deliver in limited screen time. And if you can watch Cromwell’s delivery of the line “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” without weeping, you’re made of stronger stuff than me.
This is a classic movie that just seems to get better each time I watch it.
Author: Kira Jane Buxton Title: Hollow Kingdom Narrator: Robert Petkoff Publication Info:New York ; Boston : Grand Central Publishing, 2019 Summary/Review:
This novel depicts a zombie apocalypse in the greater Seattle region of Washington as narrated by S.T., a domesticated American crow kept as a pet by a loutish man named Big Jim. When Big Jim and the other humans turn feral, S.T. must flee with his best friend, a dim but loyal hound dog named Dennis. Thus begins a journey of discovery for S.T., raised since hatching to be human, to get in touch with his crow identity. S.T. learns that his mission in life is to ally with wild birds to help rescue domestic animals who are at risk from both zombie humans and larger predators (including animals escaped from the zoo).
The crude humor of Hollow Kingdom reminds me a lot of the writing of Christopher Moore. I felt the metaphor of humanity addicted to the internet and screens was heavy handed, and my interest started to lag in the last part of the book. Nevertheless though it is a creative work of fiction with a unique perspective.
Title: The Private Life of a Cat Release Date: 1946 or 1947? Director: Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren Production Company: A Film Publishers Release Summary/Review: This short documentary details a few weeks in the life of a pair of house cats and their newborn kittens in a Greenwich Village apartment. The birth of the five kittens is a major portion of the film, and then we see them cared for by mama cat and learning to walk and play. I watched a silent version of this film (apparently there is one with narration that I could not find) and it felt like watching old home movies. Except Hammid and Deren have some filmic touches such as filming from a low angle as if to provide a cats eye view.
Note: I usually embed a trailer, but in this case the entire 22-minute film can be found below. It’s nice to see that The Private Life of a Cat is on YouTube along with all the other many modern cat videos.
Title: The Lion King Release Date: June 24, 1994 Director: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Feature Animation Summary/Review:
I first saw The Lion King in the movie theaters with a group of college friends and we all had an enjoyable time and loved the movie. Oddly, I didn’t see another Disney animated film in the theaters until Moana22 years later (although I did see plenty of Pixar films).
The Lion King draws upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet (and possibly a Japanese anime series) for inspiration, but this is the first Disney animated feature that’s not an adaptation of another work and I think it was very freeing for the creators. They were able to create a universe within the wilderness of Africa to tell a story of love, betrayal, and redemption. And I think this may also be the first Disney movie with no human characters.
The opening scene with Simba’s presentation is perhaps the most awe-inspiring animation Disney has ever created. And having it all end with a dramatic sting and the movie’s title is a bold choice before beginning the movie proper. The Lion King strikes the right balance of humor, drama, romance, and adventure. And the music drawing on African traditions is amazing. Elton John as composer was an odd choice (and the beginning of a trend of pop artists composing soundtracks for animated movies), but even if his songs do get a little cheezy at times they are definitely memorable.
The Lion King is a great film that I believe will continue to reward viewings for quite some time.
Follow this link to see a full album of our photos from the fifth day of our travels.
To lift our spirits after feeling tired and cranky the day before, we started off our fifth day by treating ourselves to a hot breakfast from the eatery at the Canyon Lodge. We ate at the picnic tables outside under the watchful eyes of the local ravens. Fueled by scrambled eggs and French toast, we spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon taking in the views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
We started on the south rim stopping at Artists Point and Uncle Tom’s overlooks. Then we saw everything again from the north rim at Lookout Point and Inspiration Point. The Yellowstone River dropping over the Upper and Lower Falls never failed to please and we enjoyed the many colors of the canyon, including the stones of yellow. We also enjoyed watching the osprey soar over the canyon. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is very photogenic. Not that it stopped Kay from stealing our phones to take selfies and silly photos of her family.
After resting in the afternoon, we went to the Canyon Corral. Susan and the kids went horseback riding on an hour-long guided tour and saw elk from the saddle. Kay bonded with the wrangler Jonathan by talking about Star Wars. Meanwhile, I went for a drive through the Hayden Valley where I saw a small hide of bison (with very cute calves), a coyote, and many spectacular vistas.
I saw two different films related to Yellowstone National Park available on Disney+ so I watched them both in preparation for my trip to Yellowstone.
Title: Yellowstone Cubs Release Date: June 1, 1963 Director: Charles L. Draper Production Company: Walt Disney Productions Summary/Review:
This 45-minute, live action short tells the story of two bear cubs, Tuffy and Tubby, who are separated from their mother. She is marked as a “bad bear” and exiled from the park and then spends the whole summer tracking down her cubs. Meanwhile Tuffy and Tubby cause mayhem like causing a trailer to roll down a hill and take out a tent, stealing a motorboat, and eating all the food left out unattended in the kitchen of the Old Faithful Inn.
It’s pretty clear that domesticated bears were used in making this films, and bear paw props were used for closeups when a paw manipulates a boat engine or a can of whipped cream. To be fair, this movie never claims to be a documentary or even a True Life Adventure, merely a funny story about bear cubs. It is surprising to see the opening credits confirm the involvement of the National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park, and Montana Game and Wildlife (I guess Wyoming wanted no part of this even though it’s where the movie takes place).
The message of this movie is made clear that feeding wild bears is dangerous for the bears and for human visitors for the park. And yet the folksy narration seems to undercut that with jokes about bears working the passing traffic for handouts (in front of signs prohibiting the feeding of bears). Times have certainly changed since this movie was made and so this movie serves as an odd time capsule rather something anyone should expect from a visit to Yellowstone.
Title: Wild Yellowstone Release Date: December 3, 2015 Production Company: Brain Farm Digital Cinema Summary/Review:
This two-part documentary follows much the same structure of the BBC Yellowstone documentary with an episode for winter (“The Frozen Frontier”) and summer (“Grizzly Summer”) focusing on the survival strategies of various animals. Unfortunately, despite some beautiful captures of animals in the wonderland of Yellowstone, the movie takes a sensationalist approach in its narration as well as editing tricks which involve quick cuts among slow-motion and time-lapse. I give this points for having lots and lots footage of otters as well as treating fights among hummingbirds as dramatically as fights among sheep, elk, and bison.
Author: Kurt F. Johnson Title: A Field Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks Publication Info: Farcountry Press (2013) Summary/Review:
A really spectacular guide book to the animals, plants, fungi, waterfalls, geysers, and even the night time sky in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. This is an excellent reference to have handy when traveling in the parks and wondering just what exactly is that!
This book does just what it says on the tin: tells you the best places to see wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The critters each get their own page with gorgeous photographs, a description of the animals habits, and tips on where to spot them in the park. It will be a useful tool on our visit to the parks.