An infant orangutan chews on a branch while relaxing in a hammock during… (Drew Fellman / Warner Bros.…)
The captivating documentary "Born to Be Wild 3D" spotlights the amazing efforts of two unique women — elephant authority Daphne M. Sheldrick and famed primatologist Biruté Mary Galdikas — who have dedicated their lives to the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned, endangered animals. Although it runs just a fleet 40 minutes, the film proves a rich and memorable journey.
Warmly directed by David Lickley and presented in arresting IMAX 3-D, the movie shuttles between Kenya-based Sheldrick's work raising baby elephants and Galdikas' labors on behalf of orangutans in the Borneo rain forest. With the help of their devoted native teammates, these veteran conservationists tirelessly prepare their animals for reentry into the wild, doing everything, well, humanly possible to duplicate the presence of the creatures' natural parents and original habitats.
The movie deftly compresses this long, painstaking process into a kind of highlights reel, offering a rare glimpse at the start-to-finish cycles of Sheldrick and Galdikas' inspiring work. It also sweetly underscores the many bonds and parallels between man and beast.
Cinematographer David Douglas sumptuously captures both the largesse of the movie's exotic locales and the intimate details of its featured animals. From amusingly vivid shots, including little orangutans being hand-bathed or tangling with a clothesline, and infant elephants sucking down giant bottles of milk formula or playing with a soccer ball, the film never succumbs to cute for cute's sake. Its moments of "aah" — as well as awe — feel wonderfully authentic.
Morgan Freeman's dulcet narration (written by producer Drew Fellman) efficiently explains the basic workings of Sheldrick and Galdikas' missions. A feature-length documentary, however, could have likely provided a deeper, more personal look at the women themselves, not to mention greater insight into the physical and financial aspects of their operations.
It should be noted that, unlike too many movies these days, "Born to Be Wild" makes particularly good use of its 3-D format, enjoyably enhancing what is already a thoroughly immersive experience.
Photos: 'Born to Be Wild 3D' premiere