(out of 5)
Walt Disney was not satisfied with simply entertaining audiences with his animated classics, he wanted to educate and enlighten as well. His series of documentary films are the forerunners to much of the nature-watch television in existence today, among them this delightful examination of the dwindling frontier between America’s coasts. The vast prairie lands of the Midwest are inhabited by an array of charismatic species, all of whom coexist either peacefully or on opposite ends of a predator and prey relationship. It’s mainly aimed at the kids, made obvious by Winston Hibler’s gratingly cute narration, which means that there’s no grisly footage of falcons successfully chowing down on a prairie dog (one kill is made off camera in the bushes), plus it’s obvious that much of the animal activity has been staged (since you can’t get a 1950s camera down into a subterranean animal tunnel). As a result it works both as a mark in the development of documentaries, somewhere between Robert Flaherty and David Attenborough, and as an indulgence in gorgeous scenery and fine animal footage, and is fine viewing for the whole family.
Directed by James Algar
Cinematography by Lloyd Beebe, Dick Borden, Herb Crisler, Murl Deusing, Warren Garst, Cleveland P. Grant, Bert Halwell, Stuart V. Jewell, Paul Kenworthy, Tom McHugh, Olin Sewall Pettingill Jr., James R. Simon
Produced by Walt Disney
Music by Paul J. Smith
Film Editing by Lloyd L. Richardson
Academy Awards: 1954