You wouldn't guess it by its name, but Disneynature's 'Wings of Life' is mainly about pollination and the variety of ways nature has invented to get the deed done. From the title I expected a colorful, beautifully photographed lesson about the winged creatures around the globe. While some of that may be true, the real point of 'Wings of Life' is to shine a light on the intricate ways plants get their pollen from one flower to another.
The subject may seem fairly straightforward; however, the methods of pollination on display here are anything but. Plants have evolved increasingly effective yet specific ways to transport their pollen.
In the rainforest we learn of an orchid that glues pollen sacks to a specific kind of fly, which is attracted to the nectar of the flower. In a South American desert we see how bats become effective pollinators as they feast on flower nectar under the cover of darkness. Honey bees are the world's most prolific pollinators, while Monarch Butterflies are nature's road warriors, pollinating thousands of plants as they move their way up from Mexico to Canada on their epic journey.
Disneynature has always tried to capitalize on the success of the BBC nature docs like 'Life' and 'Planet Earth.' Their first film, 'Earth,' even used repurposed BBC footage. This time around you get the feeling that they're still trying to emulate the masters, but at times they fall short of the mark.
Much of the film's banality lies in the narration, which is overly melodramatic and needlessly schmaltzy as Meryl Streep drones on and on in the first person as if she were a flower. "I grow everywhere," she says. Yeah, most of the narration is like this. It gets real old, real fast.
The BBC docs focus on Attenborough's informative narration and the strength of their images. There's no reason for the BBC to get excessively sugary about nature. Here it seems that Disney didn't think that nature was beautiful enough so it had to spruce it up with a cloying sentimentality. Streep doesn't do the movie any favors as she breathily delivers every line like she's either about to cry or die.
Another needless distraction involves the placement of computer-generated insects into some of the frames, because, well, it's hard to get butterflies and flies to go where you tell them to go. At first the CG is so tiny – a small fly buzzing along – that it's not all that obvious. Although, once the movie cuts to the scene with the real bugs, you'll instantly realize that the bug before wasn't real at all. After that it becomes quite easy to point out the CGI-enhanced scenes. Nature is beautiful enough, it doesn't need help from computers.
The subject matter is, indeed, interesting. I've never really thought much about pollination and how different it is for each plant. I've never taken time to ponder the symbiotic plant and animal relationships, which rely on pollination to survive. I was also impressed by its offering up of solutions. Different ways in which we as humans can help the pollinators around us, especially those that seem to be dying out. In that way the movie succeeds.
Though, it doesn't quite measure up to its BBC counterparts, simply because it feels, at times, that it's trying too hard. Streep's narration soon becomes far too sanctimonious for its own good and the CG elements only pull the viewer out of the stunning scenery being shown. If you can get past some of the more annoying aspects of the documentary, there are some nuggets of wisdom to be mined here.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Wings of Life' is a two-disc set. There is a Blu-ray and a DVD copy of the film. The Blu-ray is a 50GB disc. They come packaged in a standard keepcase with two hubs. There is a code for Disney Movie Rewards included inside. It's indicated as a region free release. A slipcover is also provided.
Macro photography is shown in all its glory here. The results of ultra-close-ups on plants, bugs, birds, and bats, provide crystal clear natural world images. The 1080p presentation really shines here. It's every bit as detailed and beautiful as anything the BBC has to offer.
From super slow-mo to clever time lapse sequences, the video presentation here is top notch. Scales, feathers, fur, and caterpillar skin all pop with exquisite clarity. It's easy to see the individual feathers on a humming bird wing, or the tiny wrinkles on the back of a Monarch caterpillar. The results of Disney's macro photography here are just splendid.
Black areas are perfectly inky. Colors are bright and bold. Primaries are strong and burst with life. Compression issues are, for the most part, unseen. There are a couple moments of slight banding as the camera swings across the sky. There is some very minor noise present in transition shots. There is also some manner of blocking that appears during the nighttime scenes with the bats. Although I'm sure the blocking has more to do with the nature of the slow motion in effect, along with whatever newfangled night vision procedures they were using at the time. Those problems really aren't enough to knock it off its lofty perch. Barring those couple of miscues, its pure demo quality otherwise.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix delivers an accurate, clear audio presentation, with surprising ambience. Even though I found Streep's narration grating, I must say that it's presented smoothly and without interruption here. Her narration is placed front and center and never deviates.
The other speakers up front are used for front-centric sound effects like the sound of a humming bird's wings, or the buzzing of honey bees as they search for the next flower. Images of waterfalls and vast forests provide healthy ambient sound. Birds chirping, monkeys howling, and water gushing, are all heard through the rear speakers.
LFE is clean and present. It doesn't rumble so much as accentuate. The bass is used to create a well-rounded audio presentation that sounds great all the way through. Like Streep's narration or not, it's hard to find much wrong with Disney's mix here.
The photography is stunning, the narration is, well, not. It's so hard to get past the way they've written this narration for Streep. It's too ridiculous. It tries far too hard to anthropomorphize plants and how their relationship with animals is somehow a romantic one. It's far too silly to take serious, which is a shame, because the images before you are really quite amazing to look at. I don't think I'd outright recommend this, even though the video presentation is very close to perfect, instead I'd say it's worth a look.