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Wings of Life (2011)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/16/2013

All Ratings out of
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/16/2013


Very few things in life are consistent, save for inconsistency. However, one thing has always been there is the Walt Disney company. There were there long before I was born and are still going strong today. Disney was a big part of my early education because of their nature films series. (And oh how we would go crazy on movie day!) For decades, Disney made very detailed nature documentaries, which often contained breath-taking photography. After a hiatus, this series came roaring back in 2007 with the release of Earth. Since that time, Disney has released several nature movies theatrically, such as Oceans, African Cats, and Chimpanzee, with the releases coming in late April to coincide with Earth Day. However, in 2013, we didn't get a theatrical release, instead, we get the direct-to-video release of Wings of Life, a movie which was apparently shot in 2011 and was originally entitled "Pollen". This doesn't bode well.

The title Wings of Life evokes images of winged creatures and, in fact, the front cover art of the Blu-ray Disc shows two butterflies, two bees, and a hummingbird. And here's the copy from the back cover, "(An) unprecedented look at butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, bats, and flowers is a celebration of life". It's nice that those animals got listed there and they do appear in the film, but the word "flowers" should have been at the beginning, because this is what Wings of Life is about. Yes, flowers.

Meryl Streep narrates Wings of Life, speaking in first person and taking on the persona of various flowers. (I'm not making this up.) The film travels the globe, showing the American Midwest, the American Southwest, the rainforest (presumably South America), and a mountainous area, detailing how flowers and flying animals interact. We watch as the aforementioned butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and bats take pollen from one flower to another, thus fertilizing the flowers and promoting growth.

There are two major problems with Wings of Life. First of all, flowers aren't most exciting subject for a documentary. Going back to the box art copy, it promises us "...adventure...intrigue...drama", but we get none of this. It's simply shot after shot of animals landing on or sucking on flowers. This loses novelty rather quickly. This isn't helped by Streep's laconic, nearly whispered narration. In short, the movie is boring. The recent Disneynature movies have contained fascinating scenes of animals migrating, fighting, or simply struggling to survive and here we get close-ups of flowers.

The other problem with Wings of Life is that it's simply too vague. These movies are usually educational as well as captivating, but I didn't learn much from Wings of Life, either about flowers or animals. The orchid which lures and then uses bees to transport its pollen is sort of interesting and there is some very nice photography of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Otherwise, we get very little detailed information about the fertilization procedure and learn next to nothing about the animals. I have typically have an "Ah-ha..." moment with these films, Wings of Life only left me with questions, such as "Why are those bees green?" and "Are you saying that hummingbirds in the rainforest have to fight spiders and snakes? Do you have any footage of that?"

Given the recent Disney documentaries, Wings of Life is a huge disappointment. Of course, the photography is beautiful, from the wide landscape shots to the amazing close-ups of the insects at work. However, it all rings hollow and begins to run together. Sure, there are probably some horticulturalists who will enjoy this movie, but all others will quickly tire of the shots of flowers and Streep's narration may put them to sleep.

Wings of Life doesn't even go into the science of how hummingbirds fly on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. As one would hope, the image here is nearly flawless. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look amazing, most notably reds and greens, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image is very detailed, allowing us to see the grains of pollen, and the depth is very good as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track provides clear narration and sound effects. Unlike some of the other Disney documentaries, which have crashing waves or stampeding herds, Wings of Life is a relatively quiet movie. We get assorted nature sounds which are nicely dispersed through the front and rear channels. Things like waterfalls or breezes come through the surround speakers, creating a sense of space, but there aren't any notable subwoofer effects here.

The Wings of Life Blu-ray Disc contains no extra features, save for a commercial for Bears, the next title in the Disneynature series.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.