On October 17th and 24th, Nat Geo Wild invites viewers to tag along with photographer Joel Sartore in a two-part Photo Ark special. For the past fifteen years, Sartore has been traveling the globe photographing endangered species to keep a record of them long after their gone, but the ultimate goal is to encourage people to help save them before it’s too late. As Joel says in the special, “We won’t save what we don’t love and we won’t fall in love if we don’t connect.”
It’s pretty hard not to connect with many of the animals featured in both parts of these specials, particularly the youngest and cutest ones. There are several heart-melting moments, such as an adorable gray woolly monkey who has unique features due to being malnourished. This and a pair of orangutan babies in the second special are possibly the easiest animals to connect with due to their genetic similarities to humans. And the most incredible animal in the specials is a bonobo ape with English comprehension skills and a particularly charming interaction with Joel.
On the theme of viewers connecting with the documentary’s subjects, most National Geographic fans are aware of the Photo Ark, but you probably don’t know Joel Sartore that well. A large part of the appeal of the special is to see the hoops he jumps through to photograph these amazing and often reluctant animals. He’s not afraid to get on the floor of a bathroom to get a picture of a giant armadillo in a shower to make things work. In one sequence in the second special, he ends up being slightly fat shamed by Indonesian zookeepers for not being able to slip through a small gap in an enclosure and he plays it off with jokes, an incredibly humanizing and relatable moment for many viewers.
There’s also a fan-service moment for Disney fans in the first special when Joel Sartore visits the Colorado Rockies to document a rodent called a pika, who I suspect may have been an inspiration for the Pokemon character Pikachu. In his narration, Joel shares that pikas are often described as “Potatoes with Mickey Mouse ears on them” and he’s absolutely right. The Rockies are the only domestic location featured in the specials, with the rest feeling far more exotic, including two rainforests in South America.
“Cute alone doesn’t make a good Photo Ark portrait,” Joel shares at one point in the second special and many of the animals wouldn’t normally be described as such on their own. The main intention is to get a great shot of each animal’s eyes, the window to their soul, to help with that personal connection that’s such a big part of the Photo Ark. While on the floor facing a spitting cobra with a face shield, Joel achieves what seems impossible: a photo of a venomous predator looking directly into the camera with such warmth while hearing about why this animal is important to the ecosystem it lives in.
You won’t want to miss any of the incredible moments and the chance to see these Photo Ark animals in action.
Photo Ark will premiere on October 17th and 24th only on Nat Geo Wild.
You can read our interview with Joel Sartore here.
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.