IslandofLemurscoverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes
2014, 39 min., Color
Rated G
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray version, DVD, Digital HD
Bonus features: B-
Trailer/Amazon link

Island of Lemurs: Madagascar is a nature film made for IMAX theaters, not for a PBS viewership—meaning it’s geared for a popular audience rather than one looking to learn every detail they can about animals and their environment.

IMAX movies are typically experiences—movies shot in higher definition on 70mm film that can then be shown on screens way larger than anything you’d see in a standard movie theater, and with no loss of detail if you sit in the front rows. Shots have tended toward the dramatic—aerial panoramas, whales breeching, fires blazing out of control, and wilderness adventures—with early short films including The Eruption of Mount St. Helens!, Fires of Kuwait, and Alaska: Spirit of the Wild. So it’s somewhat of a deviation for a less naturally dramatic nature film like Island of Lemurs: Madagascar to get the IMAX treatment.

Featured primatologist Patricia Wright worked tirelessly to establish a 107,000-acre national park on the island of Madagascar to protect the 12 species of lemurs that live there. Maybe she has connections (or fans) in high places, because there isn’t a better way to raise awareness of a cause than with a 3D IMAX movie.

Wright and her work are showcased in Island of Lemurs, but the stars are, of course, the lemurs themselves. Lemurs tend to hop and jump a lot, using their strong hind legs, and there’s amazing footage of Sifakas, who naturally hop sideways so that it looks like they’re dancing, hopping across a beach. We also see Brown Mouse Lemurs, a little tinier and pudgier than the others, fearlessly flinging themselves from tree to tree. And we watch Indriids and their peculiar way they have of “singing.” You can look up information on these and find that their calls can be heard more than a mile away, but you won’t get that kind of specific information here. IMAX is a celebration of exotic places and phenomena, and the emphasis here is on these amazing creatures themselves.  

IslandofLemurs2Fans of the old Zoboomafoo TV series will recognize Zoboo, or rather, his kind: a fairly common black-and-white ruffed lemur. There are ringtailed lemurs too that will be familiar to people who’ve seen them in zoos. But there are some unique sights to be seen as well. We’re told that the Island of Lemurs crew managed to capture the very first baby lemur ever filmed, and the little fellow is positively otherworldy looking. The film also captures on camera one of the world’s most rare and seldom-seen lemurs, a Greater Bamboo Lemur that hasn’t been spotted in Madagascar for 50 years. So there are sights here that are memorable, including an unlikely visual of two local Malagasys who make a living by chopping down bananas in the mountains and bringing them to market, racing their rickety cargo-heavy go-carts down the steep and windy roads.

Like other IMAX films, this one has been remastered for HDTV and cropped to fit a 16×9 monitor. Morgan Freeman narrates and also appears on-camera in one of the bonus features which, in keeping with the length of the movie itself, are quite short. Unlike other IMAX films, this one isn’t mostly about the viewing experience. It’s a film intended to raise awareness. Ninety percent of the lemurs’ habitat has been lost to timber companies, and an island that once supported more than 400 different species of lemurs is now home to fewer than half that amount. Some of the species are highly endangered, but this film couldn’t have found better poster children than the wild lemurs—who turn out to be quite tame when it comes to interacting with humans who happen upon them. If they could talk, they’d say it: Help me. I’m cute. I’m docile. And I’m the only primate that goes back to the time of dinosaurs. We’re relatives. What more can I say?

Island of Lemurs: Madagascar is only 39 minutes long, and everyone’s first impulse may be to pronounce it too short. Watching it will probably whet your appetite for more information about these little fellows, and that’s probably not a bad thing. A longer movie may have been more satisfying, but this way you can get involved in doing a little research yourself. If the film moves you and your family, check out the Centre ValBio website to learn more, and consider donating to help further Wright’s research and conservation efforts.

Language: N/A
Sex: N/A
Violence: N/A; no predators killing other animals, no poachers, just researchers and cute lemurs
Adult situations: N/A
Takeaways: Madagascar is beautiful, lemurs are amazing, and they both could use our help

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