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'Frozen Planet' -- Not Your Father's Wild Kingdom
April 21, 2012  | By Jane Boursaw
 
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With the hundreds of nature documentaries that have aired over the years, you start thinking there must be nothing left for us to see on this Big Blue Planet. But that's just silly. This year alone, we've had James Cameron venturing to the deepest part of the ocean in a torpedo-shaped submarine, and shows like Discovery Channel's Frozen Planet.

If you haven't yet checked it out, Discovery Channel is airing an all-day Frozen Planet marathon Sunday, April 22, from 1-9 p.m. -- this time the original UK version with David Attenborough narrating. By the way, our own David Bianculli was critical of the change in narrators, but my feeling is that Alec Baldwin (who narrated the episodes shown this month and last in the States) appeals more to American TV viewers, especially kids and teens who know him from 30 Rock.

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The third nature series from the team behind Planet Earth and Life, Frozen Planet is a project four years in the making, a gorgeous documentary that shines a spotlight on the Earth's polar regions. Killer whales, Arctic wolves, polar bears, Weddell seals, and penguins of every ilk are just a few of the hardy creatures who reside in these extreme conditions.

But things have come a long way since the 1960s, when I used to watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with my family.

(By the way: Though original host Marlin Perkins died in 1986, fellow animal-lovers Jim Fowler and Peter Gros are still making appearances across the country touting awareness of environmental issues. Also, Wild Kingdom enjoyed a resurgence in 2002, when all-new episodes began airing on Animal Planet with narrators Simon Barritt and Jason Hildebrandt.)

In a nutshell, Frozen Planet takes viewers on a sweeping tour of the North and South poles, highlighting the inhabitants' struggles to survive the harsh elements of the environment. But it's so much more than that.

We're totally hooked on Frozen Planet in this house, including the two teenagers. When's the last time everyone in your house crowded around the TV to watch a nature show? It's been happening here every Sunday night.

It's partly because Frozen Planet is super interesting and entertaining. It's a family drama, a romantic comedy, a crime-thriller, an action-adventure, and a horror movie all wrapped into one. Discovery excels at walking the fine line between Disney-fying the animals (giving them human emotions) and preserving their creature-ific awesomeness.

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We've got adorable crime-sprees as resourceful penguins steal their neighbors' nest-building materials, Orca whales working together to create giant waves that wash unsuspecting seals off ice floes, cute polar bear cubs getting their first swimming lesson, and musk oxen ramming full-force into each other to establish dominance. The Three Stooges got nothing on these animals.

The other element that makes Frozen Planet must-see TV is the amazing film crews. Clearly, I am missing the chip that would compel me to endure bitter winds of 148 mph, bone-chilling temperatures of minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit, months of endless squawking by thousands of Adelie penguins, and being stalked by hungry polar bears. But I'm really glad someone is so inclined, because the result is a show like Frozen Planet.

Filming methods have come a long way since Wild Kingdom, and employ recent developments in high-speed photography, time-lapse videography, and digital storage capacity. Frozen Planet is family friendly and educational. These new stars of the small screen not only captivate viewers of all ages, they inspire us to ponder environmental issues like climate change.

There's irony in the fact that while technology keeps our kids glued to their Wii games and Xboxes, it also brings us ground-breaking documentaries like Frozen Planet. It's reality TV at its very best.

Parents Should Know: Frozen Planet doesn't shy away from the grim realities of life and death in the polar regions. It shows animals killing and being killed, freezing, starving, and battling over territory and mating rights. Mating habits are discussed, and scenes of gentle affection are shown, as well as the act itself (though nothing graphic). Rated TV-PG. Okay for kids 7 and up.

--

Jane Boursaw is an entertainment writer specializing in family movies and TV. Visit her at Reel Life With Jane or email her here.

 
 
 
 
 
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