Making the Grades
Nature documentaries seem to be enjoying a resurgent popularity in the last few years. The March of the Penguins’ 2006 Oscar win for Best Documentary may have helped. But not since Jacques Cousteau’s underwater odysseys (here is a link for Amazon) and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom (Amazon link) have animal activities been so popular. With a seemingly endless supply of subjects and reels of footage shot for specialty television networks like Discovery Channel, it isn’t surprising that wildlife is showing up more and more often as the stars of their own movies.
Flamingos, long equated with tacky pink lawn ornaments, finally get a serious study in Disney’s film The Crimson Wings: Mystery of the Flamingos. Lake Natron in Africa’s Rift Valley in northern Tanzania is home for the lesser flamingo. In the extreme heat of the summer, the waters of the lake evaporate leaving behind a thickening layer of salt. Those layers eventually collect and form into a solid salt island. The environment is harsh, almost beyond belief. But it serves as a breeding ground for millions of the creatures. (One pair of birds engages in mating activities on screen.)
On the brackish surface, the spindly-legged animals build nests where they lay their eggs and then bask in the burning sun for a month until their hatchlings emerge from their shells. The social structure of the flamingos is group based rather than family. And once the young leave their mud nests, they become increasingly independent from their parents. During their exodus from one lake to another, the chicks travel in crèches led by adult birds called guardians. Unfortunately many of the young don’t make the journey. The sick and injured are abandoned as the flock moves on. Other hatchlings, whose legs have become encrusted with dried salt, fall behind. Some become prey for predators, such as hyenas and mongooses, who hover around the migrating group.
Like many of Disney’s nature films, this one includes spectacular scenery and incredible photography. But the artistic approach to story telling often fails to provide audiences with substantial information about the flamingos or address the environmental threats the animals are experiencing. The script also contains some seemingly embellished narrative. During one of the mating scenes, the narrator refers to the "growing dervish of desire" that happens in the shallow waters of the lake.
Yet like the mythical phoenix that rose from the ashes, this pink-feathered avian species, known as Phoenicopterus minor, shows audiences its incredible ability to survive in one of the Earth’s most uncompromising climates.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos.
How do the circumstances of these birds compare with the harsh conditions faced by the animals in March of the Penguins?