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The newest DisneyNature doc is a knockout visually, but its drippy dramatics constantly threaten to drag the movie to the ground....
Buena Vista / 80 Minutes / 2011 / Rated G / Street Date: April 16, 2013
Definitely more woo-woo and heady than the DisneyNature documentaries that preceded it, Wings of Life is a movie that would fall apart at its seams were it not for its staggering photography. Where this writer was glued to the screen during his first experience with the movie, upon a second go-round, things fell apart: nature is, of course, a wonder to behold, but Louis Schwartzberg’s direction and Meryl Streep’s beautifully-delivered but super-new-agey narration really detract from the material at hand.
The topic here is plant life, and how the interaction between flowers and birds has intricate ties to pretty much every living entity on Earth. So we have impossibly wondrous sequences where hummingbirds approach blooms in seriously amazing slow-motion – sure, we’ve seen this in a hundred nature documentaries before, but it feels fresh here, with Wings of Life’s high-def sheen making the mere act of a bird’s breakfast seem breathtaking.
But even at eighty minutes, Wings of Life is long, and spends way too much time philosophizing about the acts it analyzes. And its coda, while technically proficient, plays more like an infomercial than a dramatic wrap-up – of course we need to make sure we take care of Mother Earth, but do we need to be so cheesy and blunt about it? In any case, even if its rougher elements sour many of Wings of Life’s parts, its imagery all but completely atones for them. It’s without question DisneyNature’s weakest doc to date, but as a one-off, it’s still frequently stunning.