NPR logo 'Born To Be Wild' Is A Cute Baby Animal Movie, But It Doesn't Need To Be In 3D


'Born To Be Wild' Is A Cute Baby Animal Movie, But It Doesn't Need To Be In 3D

This baby orangutan is among those cared for in the new documentary, Born To Be Wild. Drew Fellman/Warner Brothers Entertainment hide caption

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Drew Fellman/Warner Brothers Entertainment

This baby orangutan is among those cared for in the new documentary, Born To Be Wild.

Drew Fellman/Warner Brothers Entertainment

There are a few things you should know about the new film Born To Be Wild, which comes out today at many actual, traditional IMAX theaters (like those at museums) and some of the other IMAX-branded theaters that have popped up at multiplexes but may not be, in fact, traditional IMAX locations. (There's more about this "rebranded" IMAX issue here.)

The first is that it does indeed, just as it promises, feature a lot of cute baby animals. Specifically, it's about two women: one who handles elephant orphans in Kenya, and one who handles orangutan orphans in Borneo. In both cases, the goal is to raise the little guys until they're old enough to be released back into the wild; they are not kept for display or permanent captivity, though it may take years for them to be ready to be on their own.


There is no shortage of cute animal footage in this film. Orangutans taking a bath! Elephants kicking a ball! Animals hugging! It's adorable, top to bottom, no question. It's ably narrated by the man who would be the president of the American Association Of Able Narrators, if we had one: Morgan Freeman. Kids who stop in during a day at the museum for some adorable animal stuff will not be disappointed.

Here come the caveats.

Be aware that this is not a feature-length film. It runs 40 minutes — which is perfect if you're already at the museum or whatever; you wouldn't want it to be 90 minutes long anyway. But it's something you should be aware of if you're heading out to the theater specifically to see it, and it's easy to miss, given that it's being marketed alongside feature films opening this week. An unscientific sampling does suggest that theaters aren't charging full 3D IMAX prices for this unusually short show, but even the reduced price isn't cheap — at the Empire 25 in New York, for instance, adults and kids will pay $13 and $9.50 each for tonight's 7:00 show, which looks like it's their regular evening ticket price, but less than they'd charge for a feature-length IMAX 3D movie.

Still, it's worth remembering before you head out: It's 40 minutes.

And then there's the 3D.

They're really, really trying to show off the 3D here — you'll easily pick out the parts where the elephant trunk is supposed to just pop right off the screen. But in fact, it's one of the most disappointing 3D experiences I've had. I continue to be a little baffled by 3D IMAX in a traditional IMAX theater, where the entire point is the giant screen and it seems inevitable that the edges of the lenses will mess with the IMAX effect that's meant to take advantage of almost filling your meaningful peripheral vision.

On top of that, it was hard to judge for me, because I saw the film at a giant IMAX theater where they issued frustrating little wraparound 3D glasses, rather than the standard black ones I've seen before. They were less comfortable and had smaller-than-average lenses and, unlike regular 3D glasses I've used, they were very hard to use over the regular glasses I wear. (Believe it or not, with regular ones, this isn't that big of a deal.) So it was awkward anyway.

But I kept thinking that with the gorgeous wildlife photography, the 3D was completely redundant, and I desperately wished I were watching it in 2D instead. The effect of the 3D, which never looks entirely real in any movie, was to take real footage of real animals and, at times, make them look like puppets. They look fake because the 3D looks fake, and that's okay with animation, but it's actually a negative when the effect is supposed to be a beautiful representation of nature.

In a way, this is a nice nature film that shoots itself in the foot a little with the technical showiness. For kids in particular, the shots of orangutans learning to navigate high branches, or of keepers slathering sunscreen on the ears of baby elephants who don't have bigger elephants to provide shade. It's really cute. It's baby animals. It's orphaned baby animals.

Adults will likely have a few unresolved questions about the women in the film that a documentary feature intended for broader audiences might have tackled. In particular, the one who raises orangutans really does handle them like babies, and she says at one point that they possess "childlike innocence," and it's hard to argue that they often seem to respond to her like babies. But she sends them off to live in the trees when they're ready, and she's the first to make the point, "Orangutans are not meant to be pets." I'd be fascinated to hear more about her feelings about her work and how she manages not getting attached, and there's not a whole lot of that.

Similarly, while there are mentions of lost habitat and poaching, the environmental message comes off as a little perfunctory, since it would be hard to jam in actual examinations of habitat loss in Borneo and the poaching of African elephants. So while the film closes with a sort of "It's up to us to make the world safe for them" message, it's not clear what kids would think that means in this context.

Don't get me wrong — this is a charming, lovely, very cute peek at baby orangutans and baby elephants. Your kids will love it. But just know what you're getting, and by all means, if you ever find a 2D showing of it, I'd choose that instead.