'Lemurs' doc pedestrian to the IMAX

Posted4/3/2014 5:00 AM
  • A mouse lemur is one of many species of primates to be found on "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar."

    A mouse lemur is one of many species of primates to be found on "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar."

Morgan Freeman's mellifluous voice-over narration practically lulls us into a hypnotic state as he tells us that lemurs have occupied the earth for 60 million years as one of the few species to survive the giant meteor that slammed into our planet and eradicated the dinosaurs.

In the 40-minute documentary "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar," we not only receive a warm and fuzzy oral history of these fascinating primates, we watch these cute and cuddly little guys cavorting in their natural habitat through spectacular 3-D IMAX footage shot by director/cinematographer David Douglas.

We observe with fascination as the greater bamboo lemur, once thought extinct (only 300 remain), munches away on his favorite snack: a bamboo stump, of course.

We collectively utter one big "awwww" when we lock eyeballs with the mouse lemur, so tiny and expressive, it looks like a mini-Muppet. (Come to think of it, all lemurs resemble Muppets right down to Kermit the Frog's comically extended legs.)

We meet Patricia C. Wright, the closest thing we have to a protagonist in this nonfiction report. A pioneer primatologist, Wright worked to create Madagascar's 112,000-acre Ranomafana National Park where lemurs can hang out and be protected.

Wait. Protected from what?

Didn't Mr. Mellifluous just tell us that when lemurs arrived in Madagascar from Africa (where they eventually became extinct), they ruled the top of the food chain? They had no predators?


Then humans discovered Madagascar and its lemurs.

Today, some lemur species have been hunted to extinction, including the sloth lemur, the size of gorillas.

What's more, 90 percent of the island's rain forest has been burned away or cut down to make room for civilization. Ninety percent of the lemurs' home habitat!

You'd think Mr. Mellifluous could muster a little outrage, put a bit of urgency in his voice when he reports this.

Nope. News of lemur dangers receives the same sonorous, even-keeled NPR delivery as information about the lemurs' sleeping habits.

Where's the call to alarm?

Douglas and producer/writer Drew Fellman created "Born to Be Wild," a 2011 IMAX doc about baby orangutans and elephants, another "awwww" movie and a very popular one.

Perhaps they restrained their report to avoid the perception they're conservation activists. So what if they are?

"Island of Lemurs" slaps a Band-Aid of optimism on the story by assuring us that the Madagascarians are putting out forest fires and realizing they should protect lemurs.


I'm thinking a better title for this pedestrian doc might be "Born to Be Mild."

Or at least mellifluous.

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