The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos Review

The documentary The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos, released as part of the Disneynature series, finds a worthy subject in examining the beautiful pink bird. Specifically, the focus is on the flamingos' annual time spent near the area of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania. Each year, thousands of these animals trek to the so-called lake of fire to eat algae that helps develop their distinctive coloring and, with the help of their newly attractive plumage, find a mate. When the flamingos' small young are hatched, the down-covered babies awkwardly adjust to the world and develop so that they can join their parents in leaving the lake area when it dries up each year. The gentle elegance and lack of defense mechanisms of the flamingo leave it vulnerable to various predators. As it's stated in the documentary, hundreds of the young birds are killed at Lake Natron but thousands more survive.

Co-directors Matthew Aeberhard and Leander Ward and writer Melanie Finn have admirably tried to shed light on a gorgeous creature that seems to carry an exoticism with it that can almost be intimidating. In our modern and popular culture, the flamingo is perhaps best recognized from the opening titles of the eighties television show Miami Vice and as a kitschy lawn decoration. Neither of these feels particularly flattering to the long-legged bird. Further, the type on display in The Crimson Wing is known as the lesser flamingo, named to contrast against the more sturdy greater flamingo. The lesser flamingo is at greater risk and has seen its population decline at an alarming rate, likely as a result of the careless behavior of humans.

It's somewhat unfortunate that the film doesn't seem interested in raising this topic of the flamingos being endangered until a text screen at the very end. The journey shown is presented as a natural struggle, where predators like a demonized stork and a mongoose prey on the weaker flamingos. Emotionally charged scenes such as the mongoose running off with a young flamingo in its mouth and the stork carefully stalking its future nourishment serve as the primary source of drama. It's necessarily, if fleetingly, sad but it helps to keep in mind that what we're seeing is merely the natural progression of a cycle. The unmentioned activities of humans in polluting Lake Natron and potential plans to remove part of the water there seem like the real threat, and even more dangerous considering nature has no way to combat or compensate for such encroachments.

If The Crimson Wing doesn't wish to explore these issues, however, that's its choice. Perhaps a more fair complaint would be the general lightweight and loose quality the documentary has. It's not terribly interested in supplying audiences with a great number of facts or stirring up provocations. For the child viewer, this might be ideal. Indeed, the film is ready-made for parents watching with their kids and trying to add some explanation about small truths like the chicks that don't make it. It's Disney-branded after all so an overwhelming amount of facts and figures probably wouldn't be appropriate anyway. That doesn't necessarily mean a stronger spine to the film would have been out of the question. The movie is sort of flaccid in every area except its potentially fascinating subject matter and its cinematography. The Crimson Wing is undeniably gorgeous to look at, and that goes a long way, but it still feels a little underwhelming and much too inconsistent.

The Disc(s)

The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos was released in cinemas in the UK and Italy at least, but never in the United States. It can now be had in either a DVD-only edition or a Blu-ray and DVD combo release from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment in the U.S. The back of the case indicates the Blu-ray is Region A, but I found it to actually not be region-coded. The DVD and Blu-ray are both dual-layered. Screen captures in this review are from the DVD edition.

The 1080p HD transfer is, as probably expected, stunning. I don't know if it's appropriate to drool at the sight of flamingos but this would be the time and place for such an activity. Clarity and color are the real stand-outs. The image really pops off the screen. It looks immaculately clean, with a thin layer of grain intact. The film is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Even though the DVD was obviously going to look inferior to the Blu-ray, I thought the difference was still surprising and markedly so in favor of the high definition image's crispness. The fluidity of movement also looks significantly improved on the BD.

The combination of various sounds of nature and The Cinematic Orchestra's wonderful score make for a captivating aural experience. You might not feel exactly like you're in the middle of the flamingos given what seems to be heavier emphasis on the front channels but it's still a dynamic and active listen. Audio options on the Blu-ray are vast. The list is on the side of this review but I'll repeat it for good measure: English 5.1 DTS HD, English 2.0 Audio Descriptive, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital and German 5.1 Dolby Digital. The DVD trades the DTS track for a 5.1 Dolby Digital one. Subtitles are similarly extensive: English for the hearing impaired, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German. They are white in color and optional.

In terms of extra features, I've outline what can be found on the Blu-ray below. The DVD contains only the "Lake Natron Diaries" featurette from the Blu-ray bonus material. It also has something called "Cole & Dylan Sprouse: Blu-ray is Suite!" (4:45) that's filled with talking points for kids to goad their parents into upgrading to Blu-ray.

Living Planet - the description on the disc states that you can explore "hot spots around the earth, learning about various environments and animals. Presented by some of the world's leading conservationists and nature filmmakers this feature will update with new content every month if your Blu-ray player is connected to the internet." The image on the screen is of the Earth and there are various points to click on and be given information about that location.

Filmmaker Annotations - this is a running video commentary and behind-the-scenes footage by the filmmakers shown as the feature plays. These don't seem to be necessarily scene-specific in the sense that it's not where the commentators are speaking over the film as they watch it. The interviews appear to be taken from press the filmmakers did. Little facts, about the flamingos and aspects of the movie, also pop up in a bar from the bottom of the screen. The box with the interviews and footage is very small and off in a corner so it doesn't intrude on the viewing experience. Overall, it's a neat extra that helpfully adds to the presentation of the film.

"Lake Natron Diaries: Behind The Crimson Wing" (19:42) is a featurette about the making of the film and explores aspects from the production to the score. It's divided into five parts - entitled Life at the Camp, Life of the Flamingo, Making Of, Lake Natron, and Music - that can be played individually or in uninterrupted order using the "Play All" function. It's windowboxed into a "postage stamp" type of display on the Blu-ray.

The Crimson Wing Screensaver is pretty self-explanatory. It's basically just footage and music from the film.

Sneak Peeks include A Christmas Carol, Tangled, The Lion King Diamond Edition, The Search for Santa Paws, and Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. When the disc loads you can also view a preview for the upcoming African Cats, among other advertisements.

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