By Elisabeth Lively
I didn’t think I would ever be so desperately eager to watch a documentary. But after watching Disneynature’s newest film, Dolphin Reef, I’ve begun to cling to their nature films. However, I ask myself, is ‘documentary’ the right word? Let’s be honest, documentaries are boring. But there’s nothing dull about the ocean when Natalie Portman tells its story.
Narrated by the famed actress and Harvard graduate, this documentary takes viewers under the sea to discover a world that Disneynature has never before explored. In this film, viewers set fin in the world of Echo, an anti-social, hyperactive 3-year-old bottlenose dolphin who is still learning his ropes. While Echo may have been the shining star(fish) of the film, Dolphin Reef is the first Disneynature documentary to have a focus on more than one animal. Dolphin Reef explores the daily doings of multiple creatures that live in the reef because each of these animals play a vital role in keeping the balance of nature even.
Honestly, what drew me in was not the animals, but rather, the celebrity. Known for her positive energy and a kind voice, I was eager to see how Portman would take the film into her hands. Not only is the documentary filled with an informative and funny narrative, but she also makes time to speak for the animals, as if she were that creature, which is always fun.
In one scene, while discussing the designated area where large aquatic creatures have their teeth and bodies cleaned by small fish, Portman says, “The customers have to wait in line, here, at the cleaning station. Entire shoals of fish are lining up for service. The wrasse [fish] cater to a wide variety of clients from all across the reef.”
Portman easily could have gone off on a scientific or dull rant about the larger animals being cleaned by smaller fish, and how this is a regular part of nature. But Portman does not do this. She does not tell the mere facts. She tells the story, with colorful words and anecdotes. This concept repeats in every Disneynature film, each voiced by a different celebrity.
While it was the narrative that reeled me in, it was the beauty of nature that kept me on the hook.
Every few minutes throughout the film, I would catch my amazement and remind myself that this is real. It’s not animation. Somebody actually went down into the cold, dark ocean in a scuba suit and followed and filmed the lives of various creatures, both kind and deadly ones, up close and in person. These documentaries and their captivating visuals and information have literally had me questioning my major. These films are daunting, and I can easily hear them whisper to me, “Be a zoologist, change your major!”
As my eyes were glued to the screen, I pondered on why we so often consider ocean life to be serene. Everything we see, here on land, is attached to a surface of some sort. A picture frame hangs on a wall, a ceiling fan dangles from a ceiling and our bodies are grounded to the floor. Gravity rules over us. But that’s not the case underwater.
Introducing the film, Portman says, “We must leave behind the world of land and sky, of sun-drenched beaches and tropical flora. This world operates under a different set of rules.”
As I studied the humpback whales gliding through the water while performing a “dance” after meeting a group of other whales, I noted that they appeared to be flying. When there’s no view of the surface or the seafloor, all you notice is their figures soaring through the water that you completely forgot was even there. Sea creatures do not obey the laws of gravity. They can move and flow however they want and go wherever they want. Without gravitational restrictions, ocean life is beautifully serene.
But that’s not all.
Under the water, there is little to no sound. Without hearing anything, our sense of eyesight is enhanced, allowing us to see and notice a multitude of beautiful sights. Without the distraction of sound, you notice nature as it truly is. Peaceful.
As a friend pointed out to me that, we, as humans, are drawn to ocean life because of the peace shared among the creatures. Sealife is unity in silence. Dolphins, sharks, turtles and fish all live in this reef together. And aside from when a predator is consuming its prey, these creatures are like awkward neighbors. They see each other every day, but never bother to go talk to one another.
With the debut of each documentary, Disneynature releases an album of soundscape compilations from the film’s environment. Dolphin Reef’s soundtrack includes lullabies of ocean life, such as humpback whales surfacing and dolphins squeaking. It’s near impossible to not feel like you’re there, side by side with the creatures, when listening to these exotic sounds.
I’ve never wanted to be a mermaid more than I do now.