Disney+’s “Diving With Dolphins” Informs and Captivates Family Audiences

Photo courtesy: collider.com

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net forever.”

Jacques Cousteau

Celebrating 50 years, Earth Day 2020 is a reminder to appreciate the diversity of our natural world. However, with trails, parks and beaches closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, our exploration and experiences are limited to living vicariously through others.

Two recently released sea-life-themed documentaries streaming on Disney-Plus allow an armchair adventure unlike any other.

“Dolphin Reef” is the story of a young bottlenose dolphin named Echo. Narrated by actress Natalie Portman and directed by Keith Scholey (of Netflix “Our Planet” fame and The Discovery Channel’s “North America” series), this is a tale told mainly to present younger viewers a glimpse into marine life and to give a nod to the health of our oceans. It’s a classic Disney film, non-animated.

“Diving with Dolphins,” on the other hand, is a documentary of the filming that made “Dolphin Reef” possible. This is also directed by Keith Scholey and to be clear, dolphins are only a small piece to both stories. Many kinds of ocean dwellers are present and they all will capture your heart.

As the camera moves us over a tranquil expanse of a glistening sea, the anticipation of what’s ahead builds.

Moments later we’re flying over the water. Celine Cousteau’s voice breaks in, joining us on our journey. Celine is the granddaughter of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, who, if you recall, explored and shared the mysteries of the sea with us for decades.

“Diving with Dolphins” will have you transfixed with the abundance of nature found in our oceans. The cinematographers and scientists show newly-discovered research through humble, yet privileged excitement.

Cinematographer Didier Noirot has been a diver for over 40 years and is an original member of Cousteau’s team of explorers. In the film he describes one of the best moments of his life: “It was a gift from nature to be first row in the theater.” 

Diving with giants surrounded by tiny mackerel off the coast of Hawaii, Noirot and his team film three humpback whales singing and dancing as gracefully and poetically as ballerinas. Scenes like this are comical to write — certainly Disney-like — but this is as far from a cartoon as you’ll get.

Scientist Angela Ziltener has studied bottlenose dolphins for a decade in the Red Sea. Her dedication depicts a high level of trust and respect. Before showing us the brilliance of these intelligent animals with their sleeping behavior, she comments as the footage pans out over the dolphins, “To understand animals, you actually have to be one of them … that means you are accepted in the group.” 

Truer words were never spoken, as the filming displays breathtaking compliance throughout.

However, not all is beauty and magic. Representing harsh realities such as death and destruction was important to the filmmakers as they felt a duty to illuminate the darkness of the underwater world.

A surprising sobering view is of a cave located in a Malaysian marine reserve. Over the years, multitudes of wayward sea turtles find themselves trapped. The divers glide through the huge cavern, floating over the sea floor covered in turtle skeletons, remains preserved. The area feels tomb-like, peaceful, and full of reverence. 

To gain documentary footage the crew filmed some of the few remaining thriving reef communities. The alarming reality of the state of coral reefs is this:  in the three years it took to make both films, one-third of the Great Barrier Reef bleached and died. 

Interviewed by film critic Jeffrey Howard and seen in this video on YouTube, director Keith Scholey agrees that the health of the reefs plays a huge role in the survival of marine life. From the tiniest cleaner wrasse fish who pick parasites off other species to the top of the food chain with animals such as sharks and orcas — all are needed for a well-balanced ecosystem. Scholey says, “Part of the reason for the film is to get people to love coral reefs and to pull together. Especially the kids, who will be the future for these environments.”

Once back in the open sea we find favored characters, the playful dolphins, flying through the water as if birds in the air. Whether surfing the tides in South Africa or hunting prey using unique strategies, these animals always delight!

Disneynature’s “Diving with Dolphins” allows us to explore alongside talented marine biologists and their camera crew. Spellbound after coming up for air, these fantastical sea creatures will captivate you with a desire to care about the health of our oceans. This is truly a magical world.

Watch Here on Disney+

Rated: G

Length: 1 hour 19 minutes

Starring: Celine Cousteau (English narrator)

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