If you haven’t cried buckets over Simon Wincer’s Free Willy, then you have Iron Man’s steel instead of a heart in your chest. The unlikely friendship between a rebellious 12-year-old boy who’s attempting to adjust to life in a new foster home and an orca whale in captivity makes this sweet, sweet tale an old favourite for every ’90s kid (and their parents!). Jesse’s new foster parents are kind and loving but he remains cut-off from his real ‘home’, much like Willy here. The sense of feeling lost and loss is what bonds the strange duo and through a plot of many twists—conspiracies to kill Willy for insurance money, Willy saving Jesse from drowning, Jesse becoming his trainer—are second only to the unbreakable kinship between boy and whale. Pro tip: Don’t watch it without a box of tissues in front of you!
Director Howard Hawks had a flop on his hands for a decade, and then a hit in his pocket for an eternity. If the acerbic wit of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn weren’t enough to warm up hearts and minds, the plotline—of a paleontologist who loses a pivotal prehistoric bone to a leopard owned by a young socialite that in turn is hunting that very perplexed paleontologist—flickers with fun. Through the cheerfully devilish dialogue of this almost century-old flick, the audience is granted two morals: wildlife shouldn’t be pets, and Katherine Hepburn is the most exciting stalker a broad-shouldered dinosaur-lover could ever ask for.
“If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us.” David Attenborough’s powerful declaration sets the tone of this 80-minute Netflix documentary—his self-proclamatory “witness statement” for the environment. In his 60-year career as a naturalist, there is no continent that the 94-year-old has not set his foot on. The film makes an urgent plea to mankind to save the planet from an impending climate-change devastation. Footages—rich in wildlife and landscapes, and that of a dystopian future—splatter throughout the feature. Shoals of fish dance in a bait ball formation, new life teems in the otherwise abandoned Chernobyl, and a tribe in New Guinea exemplify an infallible sustainable lifestyle. The film treads a fine line between hope and despair, and possibly holds the answers to a better tomorrow.
Amid the frozen nothingness of the Antarctic post-summer, the Emperor penguin embarks on a stupendous journey, driven by love (or serial monogamy, if you’re the unromantic sort), and fraught with mortal danger. Will waddling soulmates find each other in the chaos of traditional breeding grounds? Will the female’s single egg be transferred, unharmed, to her co-parenting male? Will mum make it back from the sea with sustenance in good time? These are the questions that keep you hooked through French director Luc Jacquet’s 2005 feature-length nature documentary, co-produced by Bonne Pioche and the National Geographic Society. Comic, tender, and brilliantly educational, the Oscar-winning film leaves you longing for that elusive bucket list journey to the Antarctic wild.
—Sohini Das Gupta
German legend Werner Herzog has a sharp radar for weirdos, maybe because he is such an inscrutable oddball too. The subject of this disturbing but absurd documentary is Timothy Treadwell, a failed actor-turned-filmmaker, who fancied himself a bear whisperer and amassed hours of footage of his well-meaning but reckless encounters with these Alaskan giants in the Katmai National Park. Even as park rangers shook their heads in disapproval, Treadwell boldly petted grizzlies as though they were lonesome Winnie the Poohs primed for human friendship. Herzog laces this macabre account of a misguided saviour complex with his trademark droll asides, turning an eccentric curiosity into a darkly funny cautionary tale.
When George Adamson (senior game warden of a region in Kenya) and his staff end up killing a man-eating lion and his lioness, they are left with their three orphaned female cubs. Feeling somewhat responsible, George and his wife, Joy take in the three cubs, and raise them as pets—a difficult task to say the least. Soon, as the cubs grow, they couple decide to send them away to Rotterdam Zoo—but Joy finds it hard to let go of the youngest—Elsa, who they keep back and continue taking care of. What follows is an emotional journey of an unlikely bond between man and animal, Joy’s motherly instinct for Elsa and the latter’s ‘place of home’ with her own kin, or in the home she’s grown up in.
For writer Helen Macdonald, observing the natural world is an act of love, as she declares in her luminous collection of essays. Every essay, dealing with subjects as minute as nests or mushrooms, benefits from her attachment for living things, which she connects to human questions about sleep, community or sex, among other ideas. The titular feature dwells on the migratory swifts, birds she describes as “creatures of the upper air” for their near stratospheric flight, where they roam like watchful angels floating over us. Remember that oft-derided notion—communing with the universe? Vesper Flights might have cracked it.