I figured since I had this weird animal themed week going on here at the Gallery, this would be a good time to talk about my favorite animal documentary: Animals are Beautiful People. Not too long ago, my daughter made me put on a channel that just showed a bunch of nature scenes. No plot or anything, just nature scenes. It was fine, we talked about the different animals that came on and stuff, but it got me thinking about this movie, which I hadn’t done in quite a few years. I knew she would love it just as much as I did when I was her age, so I dug through my storage tubs of VHS tapes until I found it. She sat still for the entire movie, which is not an easy thing to get her to do.
I think the thing that makes this movie so accessible to kids is it’s sense of humor. While it’s quite informative, it’s got a lot of charm and wit to it, too. The producers were very smart to take it in this direction; it’d be kind of hard to keep most kids’ attention if this were just a straight up documentary. Take this scene from the movie with the internet’s darling, the honey badger, for example. While it’s pretty funny on it’s own, the addition of a few subtle sound effects make it even better.
There’s funny stuff for the adults, too. For example, there’s a controversial scene in the movie where a bunch of animals eat the fermented fruit of the Marula tree. It gets them all drunk, and they stagger around comically for a while. The best part is the next morning when we get a shot of a clearly hungover baboon.
The controversial part of that scene is that many people argue that it’s staged. They say that elephants are too big and drink too much water (diluting the fruit’s affects) to get intoxicated. While that’s probably true, I don’t mind so much. It’s not like documentaries tell the complete truth most of the time anyway.
Even with a little embellishment here and there, you can learn a lot from Animals are Beautiful People. I remember even bringing the tape to school to share with my class. The teacher had no problem at all with making the time to show it. I think perhaps the most handy bit of information given in the movie is when they show you how the natives get water in the desert. They show two methods, one that’s not very complicated if you know what to look for, and another that, well, is a little more complex. It involves ant hills, baboons, and salt.
If you’ve never seen this film, I couldn’t recommend it more. Even if you aren’t much of a fan of documentaries, I believe this one will hold your interest. A tremendous amount of work went into the making of the movie. They spent nearly 4 years, shot 500,000 feet of film negative, and traveled 100,000 miles while putting this thing together. To whittle all that down to a mere 97 minutes is a pretty amazing feat.