This beautifully made documentary directed by David Lickley and narrated by Morgan Freeman is about elephants and orangatans that have been orphaned.  The mother elephants have most often been killed by poachers after their tusks.  Two dedicated women, Dr. Birute Mary Galdike in Borneo and Dame Daphne Sheldrick in Kenya, have established orphanages for these animals, a devotion that has lasted for many years.  At first, they rescue the orphans to save them, but later they train them to be ready to live in the wild, and then they are set free.  This documentary takes the viewer through the whole process.

The women and their staff essentially live with the animals, soothing and comforting, feeding, bathing, and seeing to their needs, just as they would for humans.  They play games with them and sing lullabies to them at night.  A major point of the documentary is to demonstrate how much these animals are like us in terms of physical and emotional development and educational and social needs.  Elephants, in particular, rely on their families for years after they’re born.  Indeed, as the film progressed, the animals seemed more and more human-like.  When the staff first introduces them into the wild, they’re put in “halfway” houses, where they sleep at night, then during the day they go into the rainforest to join graduates of the orphanages who model for them how to survive in the wild.  The point is made numerous times about the animals’ value to humans, and our responsibility to see that they do not get sacrificed for our material gains.

Children in the audience were responsive while still being attentive during the 40-minute film.  I had the same feeling I’ve had at other times watching naturalistic documentaries, that they are too short—I presume because they’re for child audiences.  But children manage to stay attentive in commercial films for over two hours, so why not make the nature documentaries at least an hour and a half?  In this movie, the filmmakers alternated between the Borneo and Kenyan sites, the animals were always active and fun to watch, and the background music was snappy—all of which contributed to even younger viewers’ staying involved in the story.  I would liked to have seen more of their first week in the wild and more of the lives of the animals that were guiding them.

Seeing the movie is like taking a brief trip into a lush rainforest, which Dame Sheldrick likened to a Garden of Eden.  The 3D effect makes the journey even more realistic and interesting, and I think Born to be Wild would capture the interest of most movie goers, no matter what age.

Donna R. Copeland

Grade:  A