Despite the title, & despite the fact that it’s set in two different orphanages, the main characters of Born to Be Wild 3D, the IMAX movie opening this weekend, aren’t troubled youths of the Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper sort. Aside from a bit of head-butting & other such mischief, they’re sweet-natured, well-behaved kids, tenderly hand-raised by dedicated staffers.
The documentary, narrated by Morgan Freeman, cuts between facilities devoted to two threatened species—a haven in Borneo for foundling orangutans & one in Kenya for elephants orphaned by poachers. Both are run by formible-looking, motherly old ladies: The former by the German primatologist Birute Galdikas, a protégé of Louis Leakey, & the latter by the Kenyan Daphne Sheldrick, thought to be the first person ever to perfect a milk formula for baby elephants & rhinos.
Early on there’s a few seconds of footage, 2-D & inset, of what appears to be a baby elephant crying next to its poached mother; later we see a newly captured elephant orphan’s terror as its keepers try to coax it to take a bottle. These are the only passages that kids (or sensitive grownups) mind find somewhat upsetting.
Otherwise, the film presents scenes of baby orangutans being bathed & fussed over by kindly Indonesian women & elephant calves getting enormous bottles from kindly Kenyan men. It’s touching, & often funny, & highly impressive in 3D & on an IMAX scale. If a little bit of cute goes a long way with you, remember that it only about 40 minutes long, & that Freeman’s crisp, astringent voice dries it out.
A word should also be said for the use of music in Born to Be Wild 3D. Steppenwolf’s anthem doesn’t turn up, but tunes like “Let the Good Times Roll” & “Jambalaya on the Bayou” are used to good effect. & it’s hard to dislike a kids’ nature movie that includes Mel Torme singing “Comin’ Home Baby.”