Movie review: Beautiful documentary gets close to lemurs

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Every so often, a movie comes along and reminds us of the primacy of the pretty picture, the importance of the image in telling a motion picture story.

‘Island of Lemurs: Madagascar’

Starring: Narration by Morgan Freeman, with primatologist Patricia Wright.

Rating: G.

“Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” is so gorgeously photographed that it’s very much like visiting that exotic island off the coast of Southern Africa. Slow, swooping drone-shots sweep over splintered rocky peaks, hang over forests that climb above the fog and get up close — VERY close — with Madagascar’s most famous residents, which happen to be lemurs.

In 39 short, lovely minutes, we learn how ancient lemurs are — predating every other surviving primate species on Earth — how they got to Madagascar, how varied they are in appearance and what the only threat to their future is.

“Madagascar is Treasure Island,” Morgan Freeman narrates, as we visit the only forests in the world where lemurs are found. The film then follows lemur expert Patricia Wright as she travels the country, checking in on the Greater Bamboo Lemurs, which she proved hadn’t gone extinct, and tiny-feisty Mouse Lemurs, the singing Indri Lemurs and others.

It’s easy to see the origins of that famous cartoon film franchise’s fascination with Madagascar — the flora, baobab trees, octopus trees and bamboo are lush, a full rainbow in shades of green. And the fauna, wild-eyed, exotically colored, cute and vocal, don’t just run or skip across open ground. They dance.

We see the careless slash-and-burn farming practices that threaten Madagascar’s remaining forests, a nation plainly in need of more firefighters. And we check in on lemurs who have adapted, moving out of the threatened land and up into the rocky mountains, short but breathtakingly steep.

“Island of Lemurs” is close to the perfect nature documentary — a visually striking use of IMAX 3-D that is picturesque and wonderfully informative about its adorable subject.

Opens today on IMAX screens at Cinemark at Pittsburgh Mills and AMC-Loews, Waterfront.


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