DisneyNature films have been a staple of Earth Day since 2009 when Earth premiered, a film that compiled highlights from the hit documentary series Planet Earth. However, 2016 was left without an Earth Day release when Born in China was delayed to 2017. In a surprising move and with almost no marketing efforts, Disneynature has released their first digital exclusive film, Growing Up Wild.
Like Earth, Growing Up Wild is a compilation film that combines elements of the four most recent Disneynature films: African Cats, Chimpanzee, Bears, and Monkey Kingdom. Each of those films focus on a family or two and mostly deal with the challenges of animals raising and protecting their young. But Growing Up Wild twists the story slightly by focusing on the young and their struggles to learn the skills required to survive.
At this point, you may be asking the same question that I had a few minutes in: Why was this film made? The most obvious answer is that with eight films in the Disneynature series, Growing Up Wild offers a quick glimpse into half the series so far in the same amount of time as watching any of them individually. In other words, Growing Up Wild could serve as a good point of entry for new fans (although if you’re familiar with the concept of a nature documentary, you shouldn’t have a problem).
The dilemma is that Growing Up Wild isn’t as good as any of the four individual films it patched together. It abandons the names of the animals and in some cases it even abandons the original storylines altogether. The narrative also makes no attempts at humor. Tina Fay, Tim Allen and John C. Riley leant their narrative talents to three of the previous films and injected them with quite a bit of warmth and humor, which is missing in this film.
Your narrator and host this time around is Daveed Diggs, the Tony and Grammy winning actor who originated the role of Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His voice is smooth and exudes a sense of calm throughout, but with a sole focus on baby animals, it’s surprising that the narrative isn’t more fun, playful, and kid friendly.
What I like about Growing Up Wild is the way it has split itself into themed segments. The five baby animals featured go through similar challenges and they are presented in themed segments. But breaking up their stories this way also does a disservice to them, allowing the audience to disconnect with them resulting in relatively little emotional impact.
The bottom line is that if you’re interested in the Disneynature series, your time and money would be better spent by choosing any one of the four films that make up this feature. My personal recommendation is Monkey Kingdom, which offers a lot of fun, some truly astonishing imagery, and a very inspiring story. While elements of it are presented here, the best parts remain exclusive to the entire film.
As a digital exclusive, I chose to view the film through iTunes in 1080p on my Apple TV. The video presentation is stunning, just as the original films were. Disneynature films offer some of the most beautiful and breathtaking animal photography ever produced and Growing Up Wild is no exception. It also has a beautiful score and 5.1 surround sound that fills the speakers with ambient sound effects.
If you’re looking for 90-minutes of highlights from past Disneynature films, then Growing Up Wild is right up your alley. But approach it with the understanding that it is less impactful than any of the individual films that came before it and as a result, is not a fair representation of the beauty that the series has to offer. In its place, I would instead suggest watching Monkey Kingdom, Crimson Wing, and Chimpanzee, which are my favorite films in the series.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.