Review: ‘Born To Be Wild’ offers gentle lessons on harsh animal realities

When IMAX began to change their reputation, working hard to brand themselves as a special way to see Hollywood blockbusters, they did so by moving away from their image as a company that specialized in nature documentaries at museums and other similar venues.

The truth is, though, they’re still in that business as well, and they still do a very good job of it.  I got the chance to take the boys to a screening at the IMAX headquarters in Santa Monica, and it was my three-year-old’s first 3D movie of any sort.  I showed him the trailer a few times and talked to him about the admittedly heavy themes of the film before we went, though, because the movie could easily have been too depressing or upsetting for young kids based on the subject matter.

“Born To Be Wild” tells the story of what happens when animals are orphaned in the wild and raised by humans before being released back into their natural habitat on their own.  We started the conversation with Allen when Warner Bros. sent out a little stuffed elephant toy a few weeks ago.  When I gave it to him, I told him that the elephant needed a name because his mommy and his daddy got lost, and he needed someone to take care of him.  I asked Allen if he was willing to do it, and he told me the elephant could sleep with him and his stuffed dogs from now on.  He also named the elephant Allen, and he told me that the elephant now had a “mommy and a daddy and a Toshi,” just like him.

In the film, the focus is less on the tragedy that marks the early lives of these animals, and more on the bond that their human keepers form with them.  Focusing exclusively on two communities of orangutans and elephants, orphaned and rescued and rehabilitated, and it is, in a word, adorable.  It’s one of those films that gets a whole lot of mileage out of just how photogenic baby animals are.  And yet, there is a very real emotional pull to the film that is deeper than just the cheap and easy sympathy card.  The film does a nice job of exploring what it’s like to dedicate your whole life to working with animals, and the selfless dedication of these people is inspirational.  Be aware that the film runs under an hour, which seems like sort of an ideal length for this type of picture and this type of audience.

David Lickely’s work as a director is impressive and intimate, and the use of the 3D helps make it feel like you’re there in the environments with these animals.  When you’re dealing with a nature documentary that deals with the idea of how things fit into an ecosystem, there’s something particularly immersive about the format.  This is one of the ways I feel like 3D is more than a gimmick.  It is instructional, and there’s real value in trying to impart the experience of a new place and wildlife to a child.  After all, the people who do this sort of work do not have easy or glamorous lives, and who knows what effect a film like this could have on a child?  Making the problem and the lifestyle so immediate could inspire the next generation of people who will do this sort of work, and even if it doesn’t quite have that effect, I can vouch that in the week since we’ve seen the film, my conversations with the boys have clearly demonstrated that they understand the responsibility we have to the animals we share this planet with a little more clearly now.

I really couldn’t ask more of this type of film.

“Born To Be Wild” is playing in IMAX 3D right now.