Sweet nature shots and a childlike narrative commentary – whether the nature documentary AILO’S JOURNEY about the reindeer bull of the same name is also recommended for viewers over the age of ten, we reveal in our review.
That’s what it’s about
In the child-friendly nature documentary “Ailo’s Journey,” director Guillaume Maidatchevsky shows how adventurous the world is for a young reindeer. He accompanies the reindeer cub Ailo from his birth in the wild and majestic but also threatened nature of Lapland until the end of his first year of life. We see how Ailo and his mother try to reconnect with their herd. Together with Ailo we get to know arctic foxes, lemmings, eagles, wolves, squirrels and stoats. Ailo also makes his first independent attempts to walk through his cool homeland, where summer only lasts a few weeks…
Movie explanation of the ending
As a film, “Ailo’s Journey” rests on two pillars – one of them weak and shaky, the other is much steadier. And even if, metaphorically speaking, this nature documentary shows a gentle parallel to its protagonist, the young reindeer bull Ailo, who is initially a bit staggered and clumsy, this is no reason to look at the screen with shining eyes and an ecstatic facial expression. It is rather an unfortunate circumstance, as “Ailo’s Journey” can only be recommended with clear restrictions, despite the high production quality and director Guillaume Maidatchevsky’s passion for the subject, which is evident in all of the interviews accompanying the film.
In the depths of winter, the forest becomes an enchanted world for Ailo.
The strong leg with which “Ailo’s Journey” progresses through its crisp running time are the shots that Maidatchevsky and his team managed to achieve. The French biologist creates a majestic impression of Lapland, one of Europe’s last eco-refuges. Be it the pristine, shiny white snowscapes in the long winter or the greenish-brownish lichens that appear when the snow has melted: this untouched area, but which is becoming smaller due to logging on the outer edge, is captured in all its splendor – thanks lavish aerial shots, panoramas that remain calm on the screen and isolated impressions in close-up, for example when the dew wets gnarled branches. But what’s even more impressive is what the filmmakers offer in terms of animal footage: thanks to careful planning and modern, extremely high-resolution cameras, they offer their audience razor-sharp close-ups of bustling stoats and lurking wolves in the wild – and of course they also come close to the reindeer that we’re talking about here actually, very close.
The documentary largely operates on the level of cuteness: Children should learn to appreciate nature in the “Is that cute!” and “Oh, how pretty!” ways. And the adult audience can see cuddly reindeer cubs, fluffy, furry arctic foxes or the aforementioned stoats, which dart through the picture faster and less coordinated than kindergarten children after a fatal “What, we gave them an energy drink laced with espresso instead of water to drink all morning ?” mixup, forgetting everyday life for the duration of a visit to the cinema. And so you might already guess: “Ailo’s Journey” isn’t all that instructive. One or two facts about the behavior of reindeer are definitely conveyed. For example, pregnant reindeer cows break away from the herd for a short time and give their young only a few minutes to learn to walk before giving them up. Or that herds migrate along the same 500-kilometer-long route year after year. Maidatchevsky also mixes in some alarming information about climate decline and its consequences: Individual species are forced to move to areas of land that are only partially suitable for them, and the fact that the intact beauty of Lapland is becoming narrower and narrower is as unfortunate as it is (annoyingly) unsurprising. Curiously, the threat posed by humans in general and deforestation in particular is only sporadically hinted at.
Curious, skittish and fast: a stoat.
“Ailo’s Journey,” however, spends significantly more time humanizing its animal protagonists. And even if it is necessary to a certain extent to appeal to the young audience, this film repeatedly oversteps the mark: in the narrative commentary that Anke Engelke (voiced, among other things, the doctor fish Dory in the Pixar masterpieces “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory”) speaks very lovingly, a rabbit becomes Ailo’s schoolmate, a squirrel becomes a curious neighbor who constantly observes Ailo’s life, and a wolverine becomes a particularly casual robber. That’s not all: there is also sometimes a distinction between good and bad animals, which is pedagogically questionable – and due to the very kitschy, cute tone of the texts, it doesn’t even develop the entertainment value of earlier Disney nature documentaries (which operated in a similar way) or that little The documentary blockbuster “The Journey of the Penguins”, which even had a second part at the end of 2017, was aimed at learning value. This narrative commentary, together with the kitschy background music, is the weak leg on which “Ailo’s Journey” rests and which makes this beautifully photographed film hobble badly.
Conclusion: “Ailo’s Journey” is certainly suitable for a family cinema visit, but parents should provide their children with further context, as this documentary would rather be cute than informative.
“Ailo’s Journey” can be seen in some USA cinemas from January 14, 2019.