Published on December 17th, 2008 | by Padraic Coffey


The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos (2008)

No doubt green-lighted following the enormous success of 2005’s Oscar-winning March of the Penguins, The Crimson Wing takes another ornithological rarity, this time the flamingoes of northern Tanzania, charting their journey from birth to death, taking in their extraordinary surroundings of Lake Natron and its neighbouring volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai (‘mountain of God’).

With stunning shots of the birds in flight married to an appropriately rousing score from the Cinematic Orchestra, the film is graced with moments of undeniable beauty. However, there are only so many repetitive shots of the flamingos a lay audience can endure without succumbing to tedium, and with a mere 75 minutes’ running time, tedium is not something you would expect.

The film is the first feature to be released by Disneynature, a subsidiary studio specialising in nature documentaries. Its origins seem appropriate, given the first words heard in the film are “Once upon a time…” and that Marabou Storks, predators of the flamingoes’ defenceless young, are introduced as being like “storybook witches”. Such fairytale allusions may succeed in pleasing youngsters, but those expecting a more scholarly dissection of the animals’ lifestyle will be disappointed.

Which brings us to the question of what The Crimson Wing’s target audience might be. There is little to differentiate the final product from an Animal Planet documentary, and television or DVD may have been a more fitting environment than the cinema. Mainstream audiences might find it too light on drama to be involving, and so in truth it’s difficult to know who the film was made for.

Its final subtitle, telling us how pollution poses an enormous threat to the life of these birds also seems slightly incongruous, given that all we’ve seen for the preceding duration of the film – from the aforementioned Marabou Storks to the salt-shackles that form around the feet of the baby chicks (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Ugg boots) – would suggest the biggest threat to these animals is nature itself.

Fans of all things small and fuzzy will adore the early scenes of the chicks hatching and their subsequent attempts to walk, and it does at least avoid for the most part the religious allusions that many felt hampered March of the Penguins. Nonetheless, given the rather esoteric nature of the documentary’s content, its theatrical release is questionable.


About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.

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