Living Desert, The (1953)

“In her desert drama, nature knows neither hero nor villain; she’s impartial, and plans for the survival of all.”

Synopsis:
A host of diverse animals and plants struggle to survive in the often-harsh desert climate of the U.S.

Genres:

Review:
Disney’s first feature-length entry in its “True-Life Adventures” series won an Academy Award as Best Documentary of the Year, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2000. It remains a reasonably compelling, carefully edited montage of desert footage (complete with soundtrack and authoritative voiceover), chronicling the harsh survival tactics of various savvy animals who understand each others’ strengths and weaknesses to a tee, in addition to knowing how to fully exploit their environment (a bobcat chased by wild pigs seeks refuge at the top of tall cacti; a kangaroo rat throws sand in the eyes of a vulnerable eyelid-less snake; two male tortoises wrestle each other onto their backs in pursuit of a female). Modern viewers may already be overly familiar with the type of “educational” footage presented here, which has been available for viewing in various forms for literally decades (on television, and now in snippets on YouTube) — but this shouldn’t diminish the historical relevance of the film, which was groundbreaking at the time of its release, and led to several other similarly-themed, award-winning documentaries.

Note: You may or many not enjoy one of the film’s most discussed segments, in which scorpions “square dance” with one another — helped by the clever cinematic technique of running the film reel backwards… It’s done for comedic effect, but does it sully the supposed veracity of the documentary?

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Plenty of fascinating footage of desert beauty…


  • … and desert survival


Must See?
No, though kids are likely to enjoy it. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Living Desert, The (1953)”

  1. First viewing – not must-see.

    Replete with startling close-up photography, this is a treat for those interested in the subject of nature – esp. in its savage glory – but most film fanatics needn’t seek it out. In typical Disney fashion, the music soundtrack (and much of the voice-over narration) is often overly cutesy in an attempt to make things more palatable. Essentially, the focus here is on predator vs. prey…if you’re into that sort of thing.

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