The Living Desert (1953) Poster

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10/10
The BEST desert nature footage ever made!
3119jmarchese22 June 2003
Everyone of all ages should have the opportunity to see this great film. Living desert took 3 years to make and was the spinoff of a doctoral thesis. It features real life desert adventure footage. Red tailed hawk vs. rattlesnake, ground squirrel vs. gila monster, kangaroo rat vs. sidewinder--- it's all here. The real highlight is a breathtaking 2'25" confrontation in which a large female wasp subdues and paralyzes a tarantula with her stinger. The film also features beautiful botanical time lapse photography in brilliant color. The "Best Documentary Oscar" was created specifically for this film and it was the first recipient of the award. I,ve seen a lot of desert nature footage over the years, but Living Desert is still the standard by which all of the others are measured.
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8/10
Never ages, quite lovely
moonspinner5527 August 2005
1953 Oscar winner for Best Documentary prompts the question, "Why don't they even make documentaries like this anymore?"...yet, the advent of the success of "March of the Penguins" proves that perhaps they do. This live-action film from the Disney studios details the lives of the animals and insects that fill up America's Southwest desert region. Some of the footage is manipulated for a jokey effect, but why complain when it is such a beautifully assembled picture? Colorful and entertaining, it's the perfect primer for children. Disney continued in this True-Life vein with "The Vanishing Prairie" in 1954. Very lovely, with a terrific background score and narration. Classic Disney.
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Beautiful and educational without being stuffy
birdinthecity6 April 2005
Wow, what a nice film! It's true that they just don't make documentaries like this anymore. The Technicolor is gorgeous, and narrator's voice is classically 50's. The score is whimsically apt, and the whole effect is just campy fun. "The Living Desert" is a truly enjoyable film. It educates without lecturing - a rare and very appealing quality. Children and adults will both enjoy following the antics of the kangaroo rats and other creatures of the desert. This film is a great example of the kind of wonderful work the Disney studio used to produce. One note of caution - if you are squeamish about insects, spiders, or snakes, don't watch this!!! All three get plenty of screen time, in full-blown Technicolor close-ups. I definitely had to close my eyes when the tarantula was on screen. Eek!
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A true life adventure that will inform and entertain you!
gitrich29 October 1998
This was Disney's first effort to put a true life adventure on the screen. Supposedly it took nine years to make, however, some of the scenes were filmed under controlled conditions. Still, it is certainly worth seeing. For its time, the photography was outstanding. Winston Hibler does his usual fine job narrating.
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Avademy Award Winner
MCGarten28 February 2005
Great little piece of vintage Disney...

The Living Desert won the Academy Award in 1953 for Best Documentary - the archives section of the Go Disney website contains a bit of the history: "Academy Award® winner for Best Documentary Feature. The film stands as a landmark of factual film-making."

I saw this film on The Wonderful World of Disney as a child and thought it was great. Having remembered the impression it made on me and despite the age of this film, I have used it and the accompanying book in my elementary school classroom. The kids seem to enjoy 'the old Disney' - poor color quality and all. Certainly there are excellent PBS or National Geographic documentaries on the subject, but Disney's The Living Desert has a certain charm.
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7/10
Nature in the Raw
gavin69422 June 2016
Documentary of the live of flora and fauna in a desert in the United States. The film won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

The film was inspired by 10 minutes of footage shot by N. Paul Kenworthy Jr., a doctoral student at the University of California at Los Angeles. Kenworthy's footage of a battle between a tarantula and a wasp intrigued Disney, who funded a feature-length production following the lives of diverse desert species. Disney was highly supportive of Kenworthy's work and its impact on nonfiction filmmaking, stating, "This is where we can tell a real, sustained story for the first time in these nature pictures." Indeed, this film not only captures animals, but makes them really fascinating to watch. As a child, I saw a few of those Mutual of Omaha specials, and never really got into them. But this film? Fascinating. The turtle fight, the bird against a whole swarm of bats... that is something that can only be nature at its most raw, without prodding from the man behind the camera.
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A little uneven, but worth a viewing
Wizard-825 July 2015
When "The Living Desert" was first released, despite it being something new - a feature-length nature documentary released to regular movie theaters - it upset critics to a degree. I can sort of understand why it did. For one thing, it on occasion manipulates footage for humor, such as with the notorious "scorpion dance" sequence, which comes across as somewhat embarrassing today. Also, it is even more clear today that with 1953 audiences that some "outdoor" scenes were filmed on an artificial desert set on a soundstage. Despite these problems, the documentary is still worth a look. Viewers young and old will learn a lot about the wildlife in the American desert. The movie moves along at a brisk pace, with no dead spots. And some of the footage is still spectacular today, such as with the sequence with the tarantula-hunting wasp. By the way, Walt Disney did learn his lesson with this documentary - later entries in the True-Life series significantly toned down the humor and the manipulation.
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9/10
A Joy to Watch
barryrd5 July 2015
The Living Desert is a wonderful nature documentary from 1953 that began a string of similar Disney documentaries that I was familiar with growing up in the 1950's and 60's. The struggle for existence in a forbidding landscape is made amusing and interesting and it was a great learning experience as well as entertainment for young people who caught their first glimpses of nature up close on their new family television with manual button controls and rabbit ears. The familiar voice-over narrative by Winston Hibler gives an ongoing account of wildlife activity in the southwestern dessert of the United States. This apparent wasteland is teeming with life.

The photography is a joy to watch as we view lizards lapping up unsuspecting insects, turtles performing a mating ritual, javelinas chasing a bobcat which is forced to take refuge on a large prickly cactus. The movie is well edited as the viewer watches the seamless transition from scene to scene accompanied by music often right in tune with the action. Symphonic music for the slithering, striped snake burrowing in and out of the sand, soon followed by hoedown music for courting tarantulas. Told in the vernacular of mid-20th century life, we hear analogies to males fighting off rivals for the right to the female. Fortunately, these scenes are still available to viewers on stations like TCM. Highly recommend.
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10/10
Nature at its best...in this film
isaac-ho8 August 2007
It was in 1953, if I remembered correctly, that I saw this Walt Disney's classic nature film, titled: The Living Desert, in Malaysia then. Time flies and much water has flowed on River Klang. I have just acquired Walt Disney Legacy Collection #2 in which the Living Desert movie is contained therein. I will look forward to watching this best of the best nature film made some 54 years ago in my teen years. I am particularly interested in the spectacular wildlife of the North American desert regions. So this evening I will watching this classic movie which would bring me along the more than half a century memory lane. Thanks. Signing off from Vancouver, Western Canada. If you like this movie as I do, go for it the soonest. Cheers.
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8/10
Entertaining for young and old alike
utgard149 July 2015
Oscar-winning Disney documentary about the American desert (Arizona specifically) and the creatures that inhabit it. This one is lots of fun. A great use of music and absolutely gorgeous nature footage shot in stunning Technicolor. Winston Hibler's narration is fine, if unexciting. Paul J. Smith's music is terrific. Some individuals suffering from anal obstructions might complain about some of the Disney-isms, such as silly sound effects and comedy scenes. If you're one of these, I suggest watching a dry National Geographic documentary that will put most people to sleep. That's probably more your speed. For everyone else, definitely seek out this colorful, fun, and educational documentary. It's especially good for kids who might not have seen such things before. But beware there's lot of close-up footage of snakes and other creepy crawlies in this. So if you or your kids have issues with that, you might want to prepare yourself before watching.
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Still Informs and Entertains
dougdoepke8 July 2015
I can see purists criticizing some of the footage for being too cute, the "dancing scorpions" and its voice-over, for example. But this was a commercial venture meant to entertain and educate at the same time. So liberties were taken. For example, predatory kills were kept to a minimum, with the quarry often getting away. Also, some critters like snakes and spiders seem natural villains to most of us, while little furry critters seem friendlier. The movie makes use of these popular reactions.

Nonetheless, Disney's little formula worked. As I recall, this feature and its companion The Vanishing Prairie, (1953), were both box-office successes. Now, of course, much of the same material can be gotten on cable. Still, some of the footage is superb: the blooming desert flower buds, the flash flood, and who would imagine a wasp that only hunts tarantulas--that's a real fight to the death. All in all, whatever the commercially driven excess, the footage still manages to fascinate and, yes, help educate non-naturalists like me.
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10/10
I remember the movie, the narration I don't...
wkc-221 February 2006
I first saw The Living Desert in 1954. I saw it multiple times that summer and I remember how awestruck I was. As an impressionable young person, that had grown up in rural Arkansas, with wild animals of all sorts around and in our home, I thought a movie showing flowers blooming, animals doing what animals do and all in vivid color was absolutely the best. To the person who commented about the narration, I recall to this day, some 50 plus years later, the entertainment value of the movie visually, however, the narration I have forgotten. I suppose it was not as politically correct as some would like by today's standards, and I guess that wasn't such a big issue for me.
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5/10
I dislike documentarys but it's well done.
iguth27 April 2019
The Living Desert is exactly what it promises. It is a documentary about the desert. It is nice and nothing special. The narration is informative and the visuals are interesting as well as sometimes stunning. If you want a well made documentary about the desert, this is right up your alley. My alley however is located down the street so I can't give it a high score.
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8/10
Remarkable Coverage
pietclausen14 August 2019
This movie made in 1953, remains one of the few tales about desert life over a year, packed in a ball to cover it all. Accompanied by music and a fantastic display of the animals doings to stay alive, this movie clearly shows how life thrives in difficult circumstances. Truly a living desert.
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7/10
A childhood memory confirmed as a documentary classic.
mark.waltz26 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Watch a rattlesnake go up against a tarantula; See how a scorpion becomes a delicacy treat. Watch how snakes slither through kangaroo rat holes to find a baby breakfast and find that mommy has already removed the delicacy and planted them in a secret place. Sand in a sidewinder's eyes can get it to stop looking at you as your next meal. A bobcat is chased up a cactus by a family of bores. All this and more in "The Living Desert", one of Disney's classic "Live Action Adventures" that combines art, animation and live action footage where the camera work is the star, utilizing special effects in its fast forward motion and being in on the goings on where there's no way the sometimes monstrous looking creatures can be directed. Unlike "The Secret of Life", however, I did find this one a bit gimmicky, where even though it was made before, it was made in a way where little kids could not become horrified over seeing cute creatures gobbled up in a most horrific way.

Fans of the Warner Brothers cartoons will be thrilled to see a real road runner (no coyote in sight), going after the tails and leathery bodies of various mammals and reptiles. The presence of several lizards (including the infamous gila monster whom the narrator describes basically as a poisoned beaded purse) reminds me of the various monstrous looking creatures in "The Secrets of Life" that along with this influenced filmmakers to create Godzilla sized monster for all those infamous mid 1950's-1970's creature features. Natural wonders such as the description of how the desert stops Pacific Ocean rain in its tracks, how sudden floods change the landscape, and the nearly castle like mountainous rocky formations create various legends. This thrilled me as a kid in a double bill with a Disney feature, and it stands the test of time. Other than the narrator, there is no human being in sight, only pretty much every kind of critter you can imagine, all living out in the open, determined to survive another day. The poor bobcat, though, on the top of the giant cactus, had me in stitches. Poor kitty with thorns in their tootsies, but that's better than a bore tusk in its belly.
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6/10
A technical achievement, but the narration often grates
gridoon201912 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The first of Disney's True-Life documentaries has remarkable footage and revolutionary microphotography (the kind of thing "Microcosmos" was so praised for - they already did it here), but the narration, while sometimes informative, is often unbearably "cutesy". I can take a little anthropomorphizing, but in this case it is overdone. The music score can get obtrusive, too. **1/2 out of 4.
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6/10
Visually stunning, but whoever wrote the narration had absolutely no shame!
llltdesq13 September 2001
This documentary won a very deserved Oscar for Documentry Feature. The cinematography and visuals are beautiful. But some of the narration is atrocious. The narrator isn't the problem-not much, anyway. I am thankful for the 'mute' button when I watch this. I know scorpions have a public relations problem anyway, but what happens to them here is over the top. See it for the visuals and keep the remote handy. Recommended (except for the narration.)
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