Steve's Herpetological Blog

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#SteveReviews: Animal

Given the recent trend for nature documentaries to be rammed full of false jeopardy and anthropomorphism, it was nice to find that Animal a new series from Netflix bucks this trend. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I first sat down to watch the series, but I was pleasantly surprised. It is a shame that there are only four episodes, hopefully there will be more in the future. The premise of the series is simple, to highlight the diversity of a group of related species per episode. Some of these are familiar, such as felids or canids, however the final episode is on cephalopods. I’m not going to get upset about the lack of amphibians or reptiles (there is still time for the second season to redeem the series). Instead I’m going to sing my praise for bringing awareness octopuses, cuttlefish and squid. It’s not everyday that these animals are featured in a high-budget production such as Animal, they’re extremely intelligent and in need of conservation awareness as the more familiar species within the series. I wonder how many of you reading this have seen a wild cephalopod. Unfortunately, I haven’t but I have found their remains such as fresh cuttlebones on the beach, and fossils of ammonites etc. The ocean is usually out of sight and out of mind, which is another reason why this episode stood out to me.

I feel that each of the episodes were highly accessible to everyone, with an emphasis on showing the natural behaviours of the animals, instead of this growing need for sweeping landscape shots and out of place filmography. There was some dumbing down of the science in the narration, but that’s one of the compromises for making a series accessible. Not everyone that is going to be watching, has a degree in zoology. I also enjoyed the same general theme of introducing one animal at the beginning and coming back to the at the end, with the rest of the episode spent visiting the lives of other related species. Animal is unique (as far as I’m aware) in that each episode is narrated by a different person. These include Bryan Cranston, Rebel Wilson and Rashida Jones. It is interesting to note, like many nature documentary series, that the wildlife camera men and women were able to capture never-before-seen moments, before sharing these special moments with the viewers.

If you’ve got young children, or you’re interested in the natural world, make sure you get around to watching this series. It is highly enjoyable, highlights some amazing species, and covers a whole host of habitats. Thankfully, it doesn’t fall into that trap of over-highlighting an already familiar species, or being restricted to one habitat type. There is a lot of value in showing audiences the differences between habitats, and how species are adapted to them. Everyone knows that a polar bear won’t do too well in the Sahara if you transplanted them there, as these two ecosystems are the complete opposite. Animal helps to show the audience a why certain species are found in one particular habitat, the one that they have become adapted to, one that less extreme than the opposites described above. In my mind, this helps viewers understand more about the ecology and life history of a species, as it makes them think about those specific adaptations and why they are useful.

If you’ve sat down to watch Animal, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below. It’s always great to hear if everyone else has the same views that I do.

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