Getting a kid to appreciate the wonderful world around them can be a surprisingly difficult task. While some kids love to get off the couch and explore the Great Outdoors, others may require a bit more convincing to finally give this whole “enjoying nature” fad a go. Fortunately, there are ways to trick kids into seeing how amazing the real world can be without forcing them away from their beloved screens. Enter one nature documentary that dares not to be boring.
While there no shortage of wonderful, moving, and contemporary documentaries in the vein of Planet Earth, there is no documentary quite like one made four decades ago. The wacky ’70s hit Animals Are Beautiful People might be better than any of the new nature docs, partly because it’s so damn weird.
Animals Are Beautiful People gives a glimpse at the everyday lives of the wildlife of South Africa, specifically the Namib Desert, the Kalahari Desert, and the Okavango River and Okavango Delta. The 1974 documentary was written and directed by Jamie Uys, the mind behind the massively popular 1982 film The Gods Must Be Crazy. Animals Are Beautiful People was a groundbreaking film when it was released, as the film’s unique ability to craft intentionally humorous narratives about lions, zebras, and countless other species earned it a Golden Globe for Best Documentary.
Watching it today, viewers might be surprised by the film’s impressive pedigree, as the movie lacks the intensity (or, arguably, self-righteousness) that is often associated with award-winning documentaries. And Animals Are Beautiful People is decidedly not intense or self-righteous. Instead, it is mostly focused on the fun.
And boy, is this movie fun. Animals Are Beautiful People is on a mission to show that animals are every bit as complex, petty, bizarre, and, most importantly, hilarious as humans. To execute this idea, the documentary takes a loose, flippant approach that includes animals getting drunk by eating Marula fruit and ostriches and spiders showing off their baller dance moves.
Most famously, the film used classical music in scenes to comedically heighten the relatively low stakes of a seemingly mundane situation, including having “Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5” play while a group of baboons show-off their acrobatic skills. It’s the sort of unexpected mash-up that has become commonplace in the age of memes and YouTube but in the ’70s, this approach was radical. Viewers today will likely find the Animals Are Beautiful People is no longer as cutting edge as it was during its release, but they will find that the humor is as effective as ever.
And it’s that sense of humor and willingness to get a little weird that has allowed the film to have such a long-lasting legacy and stand out in the way it appeals to kids. While Planet Earth takes a more reverent approach to mother earth, Animals Are Beautiful People is just trying to have some fun while exploring the animal kingdom.
This isn’t to say that Planet Earth or other nature docs aren’t powerful, but the somber, borderline religious tone often found in these films is often exhausting. This is especially true for kids, who can quickly lose focus if a movie or show fails to capture their attention for even a moment.
Animals Are Beautiful People then is the antidote to David Attenborough’s Planet Earth pretention. It may be a bit too goofy for some but it offers a refreshing, slightly silly narrative that is the tonal opposite of the monotony of something like March of the Penguins. You won’t fall asleep while watching it, and your kids won’t either.
You can stream Animals Are Beautiful People on Amazon right now.