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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Born To Be Wild IMAX

Giving a human touch in the animal world

A scene from "Born to Be Wild."

A scene from "Born to Be Wild."

  • A scene from "Born to Be Wild."
  • A scene from "Born to Be Wild."
  • A scene from "Born to Be Wild."
  • A scene from "Born to Be Wild."
  • A scene from "Born to Be Wild."
  • A scene from "Born to Be Wild."
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When Morgan Freeman speaks, people tend to listen. Any story told in his voice-of-God fashion is sure to be a success. Such is the case with the recent release of highly anticipated IMAX nature documentary Born to be Wild, now showing at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. The film is not so much a documentary as a sequence of footage capitalizing on the innate cuteness of animals.

From the picturesque jungles of Borneo to the golden savannahs of Kenya, the imagery in this film is exquisite, to say the least. In the first ten minutes of the movie, an interactive map unfolds with enlarged versions of both Kenya and Borneo, a lush island located in the Malay Archipelago. We are then introduced to two women, one in each region, who have devoted their lives to raising wild animals in hopes of releasing them back into their natural environments.

Dr. Daphne Sheldrick makes up one half of this incredible care giving duo. Sheldrick runs a successful elephant orphanage in the Nairobi Game Park and specializes in rescuing orphaned elephants whose mothers have been killed by poachers. Primatologist Birute Galdikas runs a similar facility in Borneo, but deals exclusively with orphaned orangutans.

What was most interesting about the film was the dynamic between the women and their brute counterparts. Sheldrick possesses an insight into the elephants that’s rare and beautiful to watch unfold onscreen. As for Galdikas, she can read the orangutans so skillfully as if she were their own mother.

Based on the audience'sincessant “awwwww’s” and “oohhhh’s” reverberating throughout the dome, these interactions with animals were crowd-pleasers. Much of the footage played on the “they’re just like us” factor. Those endearing human-like behaviors are what animate the elephants and orangutans, turning them from orphaned infants to lovable characters in an eco-friendly narrative.

We see them eat, sleep, learn, play, and be vulnerable, showing that they are not much different from human infants. There’s an adorable scene where a baby elephant is clearly having trouble sleeping when one of the caretakers drapes a blanket over him, ensuring he gets a good night’s rest. In the Borneo facility, Galdikas cradles a baby orangutan who clings on to her for dear life, much like a child would.

To switch up the mood from time to time, the director also inserts some funny footage in the movie, like when the orangutans are caught eating soap while bathing or when Sheldrick’s staff plays soccer with the young, somewhat uncoordinated elephants. The movie is packed with scenes like this.

However, that’s both the peak and the pit of the film. It was director David Lickey’s intent to appeal to the emotions of the movie-goers, and he perfected that. But, no real solutions were given as to what people could do to help preserve the wildlife both Galdikas and Sheldrick had so compassionately dedicated their lives to, while the theme of man murdering the animals’ parents and demolishing their habitats was loud and clear.

In addition, we are not given a sense of how they operate their sanctuaries in terms of funding and donations. I expected a website to appear during the final scenes of the film with information of where and how to donate. In a world where people only look out for themselves, it was admirable to see these women offer a haven for animals who can barely fend for themselves. But, there should be a point to all of the sap besides merely documenting the plight of baby orangutans and elephants.

Nevertheless, the fact that this remarkable story features the unbreakable bond between humans and animals makes it worth seeing. It chronicles their journey and lets us, the audience, peer into the lives of these extraordinary creatures being rescued and raised by their human surrogates, who then reintroduce them to their natural habitats as depicted in the final scenes.

It may be easy to reject the notion of saving animals in an age where human expansion has become a permanent reality. But, hopefully this film will encourage its viewers to turn hope into action and take part in lending a helping hand to people, animals, places, or any other entity that needs saving.

The film is currently playing at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in IMAX in Balboa Park.