Bongo and I caught a free screening of Disney Nature’s Earth on Thursday, and it’s basically an extension of the footage you find in the BBC’s Planet Earth. Disneys’ pretty transparent about this. They have to be. Both works are made by the same people, and if you’ve watched the Planet Earth series, you’ll have moments of deja vu – This walrus story sounds the same… Hey, I recognize that dangerously curious polar bear! – because Earth literally borrows from Planet Earth.
At first my reaction to this excerpting of PE footage was “How lame! How lazy! How dare Disney?” But then I thought about it more, thought about how I got to see more birds of paradise on a big screen, thought about how magnificent that great white looked jumping out of the water and chomping on a seal, and I thought “Actually, this is A-okay. I’m glad they made an excuse to showcase more nature on a big, mainstream screen. It’s all still beautiful.” Also, I bet 70% of the many parents in the crowd had never seen Planet Earth and never thought of making their kids sit through the documentaries, so this means Earth is reaching out to new audiences.
Planet Earth, in its original BBC release, was narrated by The Life of Birds’ David Attenborough, and then re-recorded with Queen Latifah for the US version. Earth is narrated by James Earl Jones. It makes sense, with the globalization of things, that different countries seek different cultural icons to voice their productions. Knowing that the stories in all versions of these productions are the same, though, I started to wonder what makes the British script British and the American script American. Aside from calling the “trunk” of a car the “boot,” where in a nature documentary might we find reason for different wording and style of storytelling?
I think the bulk of it is that Americans spell out their humor much more than the British do. This explains why we Americans always describe British humor as “dry,” “quick,” or “witty.” Americans spell out the punchline, while British don’t. Though plenty of Americans like their snark and sarcasm, we’re still accustomed to more padding in the delivery.
In the example of the many variations of Earth (And here’s a spoiler for those of you who have never seen a nature show before.), there is a super sweet segment of mandarin ducklings taking flight for the first time. Their goal is to make it from a hole in the tree trunk to the leaf-covered ground below. In Earth, James Earl Jones makes little remarks to highlight the cuteness of the situation, similar to “Oops! Looks like it wasn’t a graceful landing,” even taking a line from Toy Story and describing the ducklings’ flying like “falling with style.” In the British version of Planet Earth, there is simply less of that. I don’t even remember that amount of commentary.
If you watch the original BBC version of Office, you might be compelled to cry. Yet in NBC’s Office, you generally laugh through-and-through. Steve Carell’s Michael Scott has his sad moments, but they pass much more quickly than the depressing episodes of Ricky Gervais’ David Brent.
It always fascinates me that two groups of people who speak a nearly identical language can diverge in seemingly subtle ways. I think it’s ample proof that surrounding cultures influence our identity much more than ascribed traits like “nationality.”