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Morgan Freeman narrates <i>Island of Lemurs: Madagascar</i>
Associated Press/Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision
Morgan Freeman narrates Island of Lemurs: Madagascar

Island of Lemurs: Cute, with caveats

Movies

It’s hard not to fall in love with lemurs after watching the Imax and Warner Brothers film Island of Lemurs: Madagascar. They dance on two feet, sing to each other, swing from branches, cuddle, and stare at us curiously through cartoon-like eyes. With its lush cinematography and message of conservation, this 45-minute film has the potential to raise awareness about lemurs’ uncertain future—as long as we remember to think about it amidst the eye candy.

Island of Lemurs, playing in Imax theaters in major cities around the country, is sure to appeal to parents seeking family-friendly movie fare. But the film’s unabashed embrace of evolution and radical environmentalism provides a one-sided view Christian parents likely will want to discuss with their children afterward. Still, the movie does a beautiful job of capturing creatures most of us will never see outside a zoo, offering the opportunity to marvel at God’s immense creativity.

Sweeping shots of tropical jungles, stony pinnacles and exotic baobab trees transport us to an otherworldly landscape. Narrator Morgan Freeman tells us lemurs survived the cataclysmic event that ended the age of dinosaurs 60 million years ago and drifted off to sea on a wayward chunk of land. On the island of Madagascar they thrived for 2,000 years until humans arrived. Since that time, 90 percent of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed for farming, and uncontrolled fires pose the biggest threat to wildlife. Today, lemurs are the most endangered mammals in the world.

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It’s a sobering fact, but the film is anything but a downer. Impressive footage of the many varieties of lemurs will captivate children and adults alike—from the well-known ring-tailed lemur, common at zoos, to the lesser-known mouse lemur and dancing sifaka lemurs.

American primatologist Patricia Wright co-narrates the film. She has dedicated her time to protecting lemurs and teaching indigenous people to do the same. Through her research, we meet the rare greater bamboo lemur. No one had seen this bamboo-crunching primate in 50 years until Wright tracked it down. We get glimpses of her efforts to preserve the dwindling population, but undoubtedly it’s a simplified version of her work.

In fact, there’s a sense that everything about the lemurs’ plight has been simplified for the film. Director/cinematographer David Douglas and writer Drew Fellman, who previously collaborated on the Imax 3D documentary Born to Be Wild, play up the “cute factor” more than anything. While the film shows the dire ecological conditions that endanger lemurs, it does so with a light touch. The story relentlessly looks to the future and remains hopeful. Freeman says, “Our responsibility is to recognize that we’re not here to have dominion; we are here to share this planet, and to protect it.”

Yet a more Godly dominion is exactly what the film implies will be required to save the lemurs. These tiny primates will need more than luck or random evolutionary chance to survive, we are told. They need our help. The film doesn’t tell us how to help, but it hammers home the notion that the lemurs’ plight is all our fault. It does not tell us anything about how development on the island has progressed or whether its human inhabitants are better off for it.

While Madagascar is a hotbed of evolutionary study, the topic takes a backseat here. A brief opening graphic places humans with primates on a family tree, the relationships ambiguously defined. Young-earth creationists will take issue with the presented timeline and evolution of lemurs’ existence on the island, but these details are not the focus of film. The message is centered on opening our hearts to these strange and irresistible creatures. In that, the film certainly succeeds. 

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