I vacillated a bit on this one, but overall give it a thumbs up, and even have no qualms about putting it in the “classic kids’ movie” category. I do this because in some ways it’s the perfect kids’ movie, for the younger set in particular, and even with its blemishes and bumps it will stand the test of time.
Purists take issue with the “documentary” label given to Winged Migration (it was even nominated for an Oscar in 2001 in that category), since the filmmakers used birds trained (“imprinted”) from birth, so that they would fly undisturbed by equipment and crew, and since it was filmed over a period of four years and thus does not truly “document” a natural migration. There are also some segments that are CGI-enhanced.
That said: I’m no purist, and when you’re searching for something thoughtful, quiet, and artful for younger kids, something like watching birds being birds (several species are here, including geese, storks, and pelicans) -- from various angles and distances (both air and land/sea), up close and with unfettered views -- can be magical and very rewarding. I remember taking K to a theater to see this, he grumbled a bit thinking it was going to be boring (he was about eight years old, as headstrong as he is now), but he was entranced for the hour and a half.
The cinematography is stunning, and the whole “birds’ eye view” concept is what makes the film so special. Much of the film takes place right alongside birds as they are flying, and seeing them in motion where they can really be studied is a rare opportunity. There is very little dialogue, and occasional dramatic bits keep the viewer from dozing off or losing focus. These dramatic scenes might bother some smaller children, as they depict the perils and dangers of the real world (again, purists may ask, “Were these scenes set up? Are they real? Were any birds harmed for the purpose of the film?”): geese pick at polluted puddles of water, birds appear to be shot out of the sky by hunters, another bird gets stuck in industrial sludge. You get the drift.
Without being overtly preachy, this truly beautiful cinematic adventure manages to convey the importance of our role in keeping the earth safe and hospitable for all creatures, which is a good message for kids of any age.
More cool documentaries here.