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Disneynature's The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos DVD & Blu-ray Review

Disneynature: The Crimson Wing - Mystery of the Flamingos Blu-ray + DVD Combo cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com The Crimson Wing

France Theatrical Release: December 17, 2008 / Running Time: 78 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Matthew Aeberhard, Leander Ward / Writer: Melanie Finn / Narrator: Mariella Frostrup

Tagline: A Lake. A Million Flamingos. One of Nature's Most Incredible Stories.

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD anamorphic)
Blu-ray: DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Foil Cardboard Slipcover
Video Release Date: October 19, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Also available in standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP)

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and Kelvin Cedeno

Just three movies in and Disneynature is mixing up its formulas in two major ways. The Crimson Wing (whose packaging subtitles it Mystery of the Flamingos as its credits do not) comes to DVD and Blu-ray + DVD Combo next week
Movie clip - baby flamingo hatches:
without having received an Earth Day theatrical release or any U.S. release at all. The movie played abroad beginning with France and Switzerland in December 2008, but only reached eight markets before throwing in the towel. More notably, the film abandons the approach of moving quickly from one species to another off a long, diverse checklist. Crimson spends its entire time focused on one animal in one region: the Lesser Flamingo of Africa.

After Earth and Oceans devoted typically no more than a few minutes to any one creature, it may seem a tall challenge to sustain a feature-length 78-minute runtime with just one type of bird, even one compellingly colored and not commonly found. It's not much of a challenge, though, for rather than scratching the surface with a couple of curious facts, the film dives into its detailed study in a thoughtful and engaging way.

Flamingos look sexy for potential mates in Disneynature's "The Crimson Wing." A young flamingo chick does sunset struggle with the salt shackles that have formed around his or her ankles.

The setting is Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, a dry, volcanic place that gets a rainy season just a few weeks out of the year. The rains bring the flamingos, who customarily mate and spawn while plates of salt transform the water into crystalline islands.

The process grows immensely fascinating here. The movie doesn't overplay the cute factor of its newly-hatched chicks, but it doesn't have to. The sight of the downy newborn babies is enough to hook you, and their first feeding (a sanguine liquid composed of algae and blood) from their mother's mouth and first steps are undeniably precious and magnetic. There's even a brooding villain in the awful form of the Marabou stork, who eats fertilized flamingo eggs and just-hatched babies alike. Patroling the outmatched flock with a menacing calm, the wildly outnumbered Marabou trigger a long, walking flamingo migration to bluer waters.

The film may not surpass that halfway bit dramatically, but it holds us captive enough as the chicks become independent and -- spoiler warning -- are eventually able to fly.

Aww, look at the baby flamingo drinking that blood and algae straight from his Momma's mouth. One grown pink flamingo shuffles a whole bunch of young gray ones across the African desert on the group migration journey.

English directors Matthew Aeberhard and Leander Ward bring reverence and admiration to their subject, while always keeping the flamingos' life cycles identifiable and palatable. The footage is stunning, but the film doesn't consider that sufficient, assigning purpose and meaning to Mariella Frostrup's dramatic narration.

To me, narrative-type nature documentaries like this and March of the Penguins are inherently more satisfying than broader surveys.
And they require far less time, travel, and expense of the filmmakers than the latter, so it's strange that they aren't more common. I guess by picking a single species you encounter the very real risk that much of the population will have no pressing interest in seeing a movie about it. There are countless more wildlife fans than there are fans of any specific animal. Still, when the selection feels right, it can strike a much greater chord; look at the attachments people made to March or Animal Planet's "Meerkat Manor."

Nevertheless, with limited commercial prospects (it's 2010 -- what standard nature documentary film doesn't have limited commercial prospects?!), The Crimson Wing goes straight to video in the U.S., despite impressing me more than Disneynature's two theatrical releases, the latter of which hits stores alongside it.

Fun fact: the film's title The Crimson Wing is a translation of the species' Latin name, Phoenicopterus.

While Crimson Wing continues Disneynature's streak of G ratings from the MPAA, it also extends the need for critical disclaimer that some scenes may be upsetting to the younger viewers who aren't yet jaded enough to hide the wonder and wide eyes such a film is meant to produce. In addition to the terrorizing Marabou stork, bloodless kills are made by a mongoose and a hyena. Furthermore, there is a shot of flamingo sex, at least I think that's what it is. If there is uncertainty in adults, chances are kids won't recognize or question it, if that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable.

The Marabou Stork will not win many fans with his diabolical treatment of baby flamingos in a flamingo movie.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's 1.85:1 presentation is impressive. What really stands out is the level of detail as everything from feathers to salty textures is rendered exquisitely with fine film grain. Despite a mostly light color palette, hues still manage to pop off the screen in a way that doesn't feel tampered with. Shots that run the risk of becoming a mess of artifacts (such as rushing waves or a flock of thousands of babies) look smooth and crisp. If there are any print or digital defects here, they're virtually impossible to tell as this a pristine image in every sense.

The Blu-ray's DTS-HD 5.1 track is understandably more subdued compared to the other two Disneynature titles. However, don't mistake that for weakness. Scenes in which the flocks are traveling and communicating all at once feature an all-encompassing effect that places the viewer right in the center. Even during the many quiet moments, ambience is mixed in a convincing way that utilizes every speaker. Mariella Frostrup's narration is crisp while still maintaining the broad quality needed to be distinctive. It's not an obvious candidate for demonstration purposes, but you may be surprised by how intricately the various elements are mixed.

Visually and aurally, the DVD mostly delights as well. It doesn't stand up perfectly to every one of its many challenges (thousands of animals in flight, heavy rain, low light scenes), but it does more than all right. Though the picture isn't quite as sharp and wondrous as the theatrical Disneynature pair (Crimson Wing had a comparably low budget), you're hard-pressed to find any faults beyond the inevitable motion artifact or minor grain. The DVD's Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is fairly superb, delivering appropriate atmosphere crisply and powerfully. The score by The Cinematic Orchestra is very pleasing and the mix does a nice job of presenting it.

The Lake Natron Diaries, here gathering comments from co-director Leander Ward, may make you want to party like it's 1999 with its non-16:9-enhanced presentation. No, it's not heaven -- just the Blu-ray-exclusive "screensaver" loop.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The DVD's extras all fall under the header of "Lake Natron Diaries: Behind The Crimson Wing". Five sadly letterboxed widescreen shorts (presented the same unacceptable way on Blu-ray) discuss the film's production from an assortment of topics.
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They run 3 to 5 minutes each and 19 minutes, 26 seconds overall. The shorts cover the production experience as a whole, down-to-earth flamingo observations, the challenging filming conditions and hours, the sights and landscape of Lake Natron, and scoring the film (a process more conventional than they seem to think). It all adds up to a pretty satisfactory making-of, if needlessly fragmented and slightly lacking in behind-the-scenes footage.

Shrewdly listed and playing with the former vignettes is Cole and Dylan Sprouse's "Suite" Blu-ray infomercial (4:45), the DVD's only other "bonus feature" both in this combo pack and on its own.

As on the other Disneynature titles, the Blu-ray adds exclusive filmmaker annotations. This picture-in-picture feature offers a mix of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and pop-up facts. The quality here is comparable to those of its predecessors as the facts are a mixed bag of informative and rudimentary. More satisfying are the video clips, in which crew members (most prominently directors/producers Leander Ward and Matthew Aeberhard along with writer Melanie Finn) discuss the shooting process and how they made their footage fit a predetermined layout. Their stories are complemented by production clips. This all makes for a substantial and satisfying bonus, with surprisingly little dead air.

Also exclusive to Blu-ray is a screensaver (5:13 HD). More elaborate than it sounds, it's actually a reel of miscellaneous footage set to an endless loop of some of the film's score. Despite the name, the disc doesn't automatically go to this if left unattended in your player. Still, it's a lovely and soothing montage that's nice to leave on in the background or even for home theater demonstrations. Note that the pause, fast-forward, and rewind buttons are disabled here; only "menu" or "stop" halts the reel.

Three flamingos groom themselves on the DVD and Blu-ray's main menu. This simple image of planet Earth can be rotated, leading to monthly-updated facts in what Disney calls a "Living Planet" (a "Living Menu" on other Disneynature Blu-rays).

The final BD exclusive is a "Living Planet." If that sounds familiar, it's because it's the same "Living Menu" found on both Earth and Oceans. Since this disc has a different menu system of its own, the feature's original name wasn't applicable here.
An image of the planet places ten animated markers all around the globe (the Earth can be rotated to see all of these). Each marker is clickable, leading to general geographical facts based on recent weather conditions provided by BD-Live. At the beginning of every month, these hot spots will be updated with relevant new forecasts. Unlike the one found on Oceans, the facts here are broad and unrelated to disc's theme of flamingos. It's still a nice feature that ensures that the disc will remain up to date until Disney stops maintaining it.

Both the DVD and Blu-ray open with promos for Disney Blu-ray 3D, Disneynature's African Cats, Oceans, Disney Movie Rewards, and Genuine Disney home entertainment product. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing plays ads for Disney Friends for Change, A Christmas Carol, Tangled, The Lion King: Diamond Edition, The Search for Santa Paws, and Fantasia & Fantasia 2000: 2 Movie Collection.

After a brief globe introduction, the DVD and Blu-ray's main menus play a short loop of full-sized flamingo footage. Most of the other menus do the same with different video and score excerpts. The Blu-ray's loading screen sets a pink feather against a white background while a pink bar underneath shows the loading progress.

Inside the combo's standard Blu-ray keepcase, which is topped by a fingerprint-loving slipcover, are a Disney Movie Rewards code and a Disney Blu-ray ad.

A lone flamingo makes waves and a striking reflection on Lake Natron. Flamingos! As far as the eye can see, there are flamingos!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The lack of a U.S. theatrical release leaves The Crimson Wing destined to be the least familiar Disneynature film to date. That's too bad because while it may not have the visual power and variety of the banner's other two releases, it bests them in its abilities to move, inform, and tell an engaging single story.

This documentary is also saddled with the line's weakest DVD to date; it's like the filmmakers have ended up with the debilitating salt shackles of the film's unlucky flamingos. At least the disappointment is limited to the bonus features and then mostly just the DVD. Picture and sound still excel and the Blu-ray's exclusives provide a bit of substance. And though the price tag feels a little high for this on either format, the most important thing -- the movie -- garners a recommendation.

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Reviewed October 14, 2010.



Movie screencaps from DVD. Movie: 2010 Disneynature, Natural Light Films, Kudos Pictures, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment.