(2011)3.5Jason BuchananA sweet-natured look at the powerful bond that can form between humans and animals, Born to Be Wild is every bit as playful and captivating as the wide-eyed orangutans and soccer-playing baby elephants featured in the film. Though some parents may express concern that the subject of orphaned animals could lead to some difficult questions and imagery for younger viewers, careful handling of the topic combined with gentle narration by Morgan Freeman ensures that the positive elements of the story remain the focus of the film throughout.
In the rainforests of Borneo, esteemed primatologist Dr. Birute Galdikas has dedicated her life to raising orphaned orangutans so they may ultimately be released back into the wild. At first the baby apes are as fragile as human infants, and require the same kind of love to grow strong and independent. Before long they are swinging from the trees as their human caretakers give them the space to explore their wild sides. When the orangutans are ready, Dr. Galdikas and her team will escort them into the jungle, and say their goodbyes. Meanwhile, in Kenya, elephant specialist Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick and her team adopt baby elephants who have been left alone in the wild. Their latest addition, a youngster whose parents were killed by poachers, is frightened of humans at first, but quickly warms to her caretakers as they feed and play with her. However, in time the day will come when she, too, will return to her natural environment to embark on her next great adventure.
Like a children's storybook come to life, Born to Be Wild tells a gentle tale through beautiful imagery and simple narration. By focusing specifically on the experiences that the orphaned animals have with their caretakers, director David Lickley and screenwriter Drew Fellman offer an uplifting look at the efforts of two dedicated specialists to ensure that the creatures who can't yet fend for themselves get a fighting chance at life. Details of how the animals were orphaned are kept to a bare minimum, and the single shot of an animal in danger -- a baby elephant surrounded by adult males -- is both brief and has a happy ending. The narration is a satisfying balance of informative and lighthearted that will appeal to viewers of all ages, and it's generally nonintrusive as we watch the gentle bonds develop between the devoted caretakers and their tender young charges. The dialogue is perfectly complemented by composer Mark Mothersbaugh's buoyant score, which skillfully folds in local sounds and instruments as the story shifts between Africa and Borneo.
If there exists a more colorful and humane nature documentary than Born to Be Wild, odds are it hasn't been told on such an awe-inspiring scale. And even if it has, Lickley and Fellman have infused this captivating film with a distinctive charm all its own.