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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Amazon Adventure 3D is a large-format docudrama that's partly an exploration of the Amazon's biodiversity and partly a biopic about 19th-century English naturalist Henry Walter Bates. Bates may not be nearly as famous as Charles Darwin, but his work was no less important -- and his voyage to the Amazon was much longer and more specialized than Darwin's five-year journey around the world. Unlike many other educational nature films, this isn't a documentary but rather a dramatic biopic set against the Amazon. Characters face challenges (illness, natural catastrophe) but don't let any obstacle get in the way of their curiosity and pursuit of their dreams. Older elementary schoolers and middle-school-aged viewers are particularly well-suited to understand this drama, which humanizes an important scientist who's not quite a household name.
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What's the story?
AMAZON ADVENTURE 3D is a 45-minute biopic about 19th-century naturalist Henry Walter Bates (Calum Finlay), a much-younger and lesser-known contemporary of Charles Darwin. Produced by SK Films in collaboration with organizations focused on science education, the film was shot by two teams: one that focused on exploring the Amazon's biodiversity through nature cinematography, and one that focused on the narrative storytelling about Bates. Born into a family of literate, middle-class stocking makers in Leicester, England, Bates develops an early passion for the natural world -- particularly insects and butterflies. As a young man, he teams up with fellow naturalist Alfred Wallace (Ed Birch) to ask a wealthy London patron to fund their journey to the Amazon in exchange for regular shipments of pecimens. While on their journey, Bates and Wallace decide to split up to explore more. Eventually Wallace moves on to East Asia, but Bates remains in the Amazon and continues to do his research, fixated on the idea of mimcry/disguise in the natural world as proof that species evolve to survive.
Is it any good?
An educational, inspiring tale of naturalist Henry Bates' determination, grit, and awesome exploration of the Amazon, this film is worth catching at a museum or learning institution. At first, it's a bit odd to see a dramatic retelling of a scientist's life rather than a straight documentary featuring a bunch of academics and scientists discussing the importance of Bates' contribution to the study of evolution and natural selection. But by focusing on Bates' life, Amazon Adventure 3D humanizes him and shows just how vital scientific research was -- and continues to be -- for the sake of progress, knowledge, and understanding the world around us.
Finlay plays Bates as a man of integrity, discipline, and kindness. He genuinely loves the Amazon and is, at least in the film, close to his guide -- an indigenous Brazilian man named Tando (Bege Muniz), who's responsible for keeping Bates alive. The natural photography was all shot on location in the Amazon, and the result is visually stunning -- viewers will see animals that can disguise themselves as leaves, bark, and rocks, as well as those that can imitate predators (when they're actually prey). It's just as fascinating in the 21st century as it was in the 19th.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the role models in Amazon Adventure 3D. What makes them role models? How accurately do you think they're portrayed here?
What do Bates' triumphs and tragedies in the Amazon reveal about the nature of scientific research? How does Bates use perseverance and curiosity in his work? Why are those important character strengths?
What did you learn about the Amazon, mimicry, and the importance of Bates' work? Does the movie make you want to visit the Amazon? Or learn more about Bates?
- In theaters: April 21, 2017
- Cast: Calum Finlay, Ed Birch, Robert Daws
- Director: Mike Slee
- Studio: SK Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Adventures, Bugs, Friendship, Science and Nature
- Character strengths: Curiosity, Perseverance
- Run time: 45 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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