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L.A. Popcorn Adventure #129
May 05, 2009

Awesome Animals

Earth + Noah's Ark at the Skirball

Disneynature's Earth (in theaters now) offers children a picture of the planet's diversity by telling the stories of three animal families - a polar bear mom and her two cubs as they first greet the world, a family of elephants trekking across the Kalahari, and a humpback whale and her calf migrating to Antarctica to fill up on krill. Compiled from footage from the BBC's epic series Planet Earth, the film uses cool time-lapse photography to give kids a sense of seasonal changes around the globe, while simultaneously teaching them the hardships faced by animals in each region. Zoom lenses mounted on helicopters capture images never before seen, such as wolves chasing down caribou, and a giraffe taking a bath. By slowing down shots of a cheetah in full pursuit of an antelope, we witness the beauty of that speedster's remarkable gait. Our kids got emotional watching a polar bear struggle to find food in an increasingly watery habitat and didn't find it easy to watch a baby elephant and his mom get separated from their herd while looking for water (they were subsequently reunited). Yet, the veracity of the stories left them with a heightened sense that, as the next stewards of the planet, it's time to get busy and help the Earth.

It will take a global village to solve our planet's troubles and we knew just where to find the hopefulness our kids need to get started. A clever sculpture of a polar bear, with a claw-footed tub as legs and a block of 'ice' as a body, greets visitors as they enter Noah's Ark at the Skirball. Two other gorgeous scuptures -- an endangered Asian elephant and two Grevy's Zebras made from piano keys and wind-turbines -- alert visitors that this will be a visually arresting and deeply thoughtful visit. As we moved through the lushly designed exhibit, a story developed. First, we conducted a storm and thought about how the flood developed; then, we ducked into a ceiling-tall wooden structure, the belly of the Ark, and were greeted by scores of animals peeking from the rafters and walls in matched pairs. In the "Arkade," the kids exploded into play, scampering around an excellent ropes course and picking up puppets to act out stories.  A rainbow slowly saturated a wall in the final room, under which kids are encouraged to think about communities working together to solve problems. We spent over an hour playing with many colorful and inventive life-sized puppets and were delighted when a staff member enlivened a flamingo puppet, mimicking that bird with uncanny movement that engaged our kids on an intuitive level. When we emerged into the sunshine, the kids scampered to a water-spritzing rainbow sculpture, where they stood under the sprays and marveled at prismic light refractions. We all felt remarkably restored -- hopeful and happy.

Film Title: Earth
Directed By: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield
2009, Rated G, 96 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • KOTC SUBSCRIBER DISCOUNT to the El Capitan Theater and "Animals Around the World" stage show before the film: $8 per ticket, Monday through Thursday, as long as seats are available. (VIP tickets remain $20.) This is a first-come, first-served chance, and this offer is not available at the box office. To reserve seats, subscribers must call 1-818-845-3110 and mention this newsletter, and the code "KOTC" to receive the discount.
  • Why It's Worth It: Although rated G, this film isn't easy for even an eight year-old to watch. While slightly frustrating from a narrative point of view, the images tell a compelling story and are worth a few hours of your family's time. We were reminded of how, when we were small, nature shows (like Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom) were a mainstay of family viewing. It's nice for the Just-Google-It generation to take the time and appreciate the pure beauty of these shots. That being said, the end credits were our favorite part of the film - seeing outtakes from the filming of Planet Earth made us realize that the real story of the movie is the incredible work it took to make this film. Click here to read more on how the series was made.
  • Red Flags: Although the film is rated G, parents to think twice about who should watch. On a basic level, a documentary can be slow and this one might cause really little ones to wiggle. And then, the images of animals in peril can be intense for anyone, no matter their age; although you don't actually see one animal killing another, a cheetah overtakes and pounces on an antelope, an Orca revels in the capture of a seal and several lions climb on the back of an adult elephant. Most stunning is the image of a starving male polar bear fail in his attack to kill a walrus; he collapses, exhausted, and (presumably) dies. These are powerful images, designed to serve a purpose -- but they're not sugar-coated.
  • Further Viewing: Much of the footage in Earth was actually shot for Planet Earth and re-edited for this film. Click here to see our review of Planet Earth. We highly recommend purchasing the epic Planet Earth series, produced for the BBC; your family will enjoy it for years.

Our Tips for Talking with Your Kids About this Film:

  • Narrative Savvy: James Earl Jones' narration makes assumptions about how the animals are feeling, anthropomorphizing the creatures. Ask the kids if they like this technique. What might the filmmakers have done instead?
  • Film making Savvy:  Technological advances in film cameras helped filmmakers capture the remarkable footage in this film, from the wolves chasing the caribou to the lions attacking the elephants. Click here to learn more.  
  • Ethics Savvy: Ask the kids what they think the filmmakers were thinking while watching the polar bear search for food - did they intervene? Did they want to intervene?


Noah's Ark at the Skirball

Skirball Cultural Center
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049

Contact: or 310-440-4500
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 12:00-5:00 p.m. and weekends 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Age Recommendation: Everyone
Time Allotment: Plan to spend at least two hours at the museum exploring Noah's Ark and other exhibits

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • KOTC SUBSCRIBER DISCOUNT: Now through July 5, Kids Off the Couch subscribers who bring a copy of this email with the email address included at the top are eligible for $3 off Skirball general admission tickets to experience Noah's Ark (limit 4 discounts per KOTC email recipient).
  • What Worked for Us: Everyone in the family loves this exhibit for its creative design, hopeful message and... the fact that you can touch absolutely everything! We revisit this incredible space whenever we can (out of town visitors adore it) since we always discover something new. A membership to the Skirball helps defray the cost of repeated visits, and we love the programming for adults and teens, as well.
  • How the Space is Organized: There are several distinct phases of the exhibit: visitors are first greeted by life-size sculptures of a polar bear, two Grevy's zebra and an Asian elephant. The first activity area is for conducting the storm -- kids can make wind blow and see a toy ark get tossed about the sea. Visitors then enter the ark area, where animals are just moving in; puppets made from recycled materials hang out in two-by-two formation, and it's not until visitors move to the second ark room that animals are arranged apart from their pairs. The lion is situated next to a lamb, indicating that each creature has learned to get along with others. In this, the largest room, kids can climb around a large (expanded) ropes course and toss hay around from an abundant bale. The final room of the exhibit contains ever-changing art projects and activities designed to build upon the idea of community and hopefulness.
  • Don't Miss These Gems: Be sure your kids find these wonderful details as they scamper about: An image of a polar bear floating alone in the ocean on a piece of ice (located inside the polar bear sculpture in the first room); a zoetrope-like-device with a giraffe galloping (in the move-in, first room of the ark) and the wonderful outdoor water-spritzing rainbow, accessible at the end of the exhibit, along the driveway.

Our Tips for Extending this Adventure:
  • The Skirball Cultural Center is a fabulous resource for Los Angelenos. One of the world's most dynamic Jewish institutions, The Skirball offers great family programming as well as wonderful film and lecture series, music and dance performances. The institutions mission is to "explore connections between four thousand years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals". Click here for programming details.
  • Chris Green -- Puppeteer and Designer: When the Skirball designed this exhibit, they turned to an ark full of artists to create the experience, and the animals. Chris Green, who made the largest, keystone animals such as the polar bear, elephant and zebra at the entrance, used materials from the animals' natural habitats and designed puppets for gallery educators to use with exhibit visitors -- don't worry, those piano keys on the Grevy's Zebras are not made from real ivory! Click here to visit this remarkable artist's website.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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