As Simba shuffles timidly to the collapsed body of the mighty Mufasa and nervously whispers “Dad?”, a chill crawls up my spine as I fight back tears flooding my eyes. After 25 years, The Lion King is still in one word- iconic. As it takes you through a journey of hope, fear, loss, victory, glee and gloom, it also unleashes endless, striking landscapes and the complex biodiversity of the African Savanna.
While you book front-row tickets to the live-action version of the childhood favourite, go through our list of the best real-life stories of wildlife shown by these six documentaries for the next watch.
Just beneath the surface of the dark waves in the ocean, in a beautiful cloak of black and white, swim the majestic killer whales. Well, at least the ones left with their freedom. Others are reduced to mere props in elaborate sea-park shows. Shedding light on the distressed conditions under which killer whales are bred in SeaWorld, Gabriela Cowperthwaites’s Blackfish follows the life of Tilikum, a show whale captured and raised in captivity. The film shows footage and interviews revealing the unsavoury treatment and living situations- comically small tanks; bullying amongst fellow orcas- that subsequently led Tilikum to a streak of attacks on his trainers.
This must-watch is passionate, tear-jerking and eye-opening, especially for marine aficionados.
In this environmental calamity- thanks to obscene amounts of pollution and industrialisation- conservation is a necessity, no longer a choice. Set in the crumbling political and social backdrop of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012, Orlando von Einsiedel’s Virunga unveils the threat to natural habitats in Virunga National Park by the questionable activities of British oil behemoth Soco International. The gripping plot follows four characters in their attempts to save the rare indigenous mountain gorillas from poaching and war. Earnest efforts to save the home of the perishing species combined with the atmosphere of intense conflict make all 100 minutes of this film hard-hitting and toe-curling.
Born to be wild
Short and sweet. David Lickley’s Born to be Wild are perfectly summarised by this phrase. Following parallel story lines, this 40 minute documentary gives the viewer an insight into the consequences of destructive acts by humans, and the efforts of two women trying to battle it. The film introduces us to the work of Birute Mary Galdikas in Borneo and Daphne Sheldrick in Kenya. Galdikas adopts and rehabilitates orangutans, orphaned in the wake of perpetual rainforest destruction in Borneo, on the other hand Sheldrick does the same for elephants that are vulnerable to poaching in Kenya. These adorable animals are sheltered and trained, so that they can be returned to the wild one day. All about second chances, this film is a plateful of cuteness and hope.
As cub Simba’s tiny paw steps into the cave-like indent left by the towering Mufasa, the importance of family and pack mentality in wild cats is established. In an attempt to bring this aspect of cats on the big screen, Keith Scholey’s African Cats follows the lives of mother cats- Sita the cheetah and Layla the tigress. A wildlife turf war on the scenic terrains of the African Savanna make the documentary a visual rollercoaster. This feature explores motherhood and its struggles to thrive in the most eventful landscape, perhaps in the world. With a high dosage of drama, action, love, humour and everything in between, this movie has something for everyone.
Fun fact: All proceeds from the movie were donated to the African Wildlife Foundation and their effort to preserve Kenya’s Amboseli Wildlife Corridor. 50,000 acres of land were saved by this contribution.
March of the Penguins
In sheets of white snow abandoned by most animals unable to tolerate the aching cold, an expansive line dotted by Emperor penguins stretch across the land as they bobble left and right to their destination. Luc Jacquet’s March of the Penguins takes you to the picturesque, frosted lands around Dumont d’Urville in Adelie Land to witness an astonishing and endearing adventure taken annually by Emperor penguins. This feature-length French documentary is a first person account of the 20-day yearly journey of Emperor penguins to breed in the most populous breeding ground in Antarctica, if not the world. An Academy-award winning venture, this movie details the entire mating and breeding mission of the penguins and their endearing journey to becoming parents.
Born in China
While the variant biodiversity of Africa are a much discussed subject, often ignored is the diverse wildlife of the grandiose country of China. Lu Chuan’s Born in China opens a portal to the country’s magnificent vista. The film explores life in the wild across diverse terrains through the stories of four families. The lives of a snow leopard, giant panda and golden snub-nosed monkey and chiru unfold on screen as the camera follows their lifestyle in testing conditions. A 76-minute cinematic marvel, the movie is a look into the elusive wildlife in China.