There were plenty of nature documentaries predating (see F. Percy Smith) and contemporary (see Arne Sucksdorff) to Walt Disney's True Life Adventures, but there's little question who dominated this genre in the late '40s and '50s. You simply can't beat glorious Technicolor, thundering music scores by Paul Smith, Winston Hibler's laid-back narration and the animated paintbrush "Tinkerbell treatment". Naturalistic accuracy was not always the goal, despite intros to the contrary; but I've found much guilty pleasure in square-dancing scorpions and Anvil Chorus bighorns. Sadly, we are so immersed in Animal Planet shows, it is hard to picture the impact wild animals in their native habitat must have had on the BIG screen.
I love all of them, but PROWLERS OF THE EVERGLADES (completed in 1952, but an Oscar winner the following year) and the feature SECRETS OF LIFE (which should have won one) are the two I've watched the most, perhaps because they are the least "disneyfied". Well... almost... you see, the "funny" otters were so popular in BEAVER VALLEY, that their Everglades cousins just had to put in their own clowning act in PROWLERS as well. On the plus side, there's no cartoony business for the alligators or the waterfowl and turtles who cautiously share housing (and occasionally become lunch). The clever camera effects achieved by the Milotte husband and wife team (true successors in spirit of Martin & Olsa Johnson two decades earlier... couples who adventure-seek together usually stay together) is brought to a peak in the underwater scenes, highlighted by "mirror" gators on the ceiling, and in the close-and-personal clips of hatching reptiles in a very well-guarded nest.
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