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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dancing with the Birds is a 2019 documentary that follows a series of colorful and entertaining male jungle birds as they proceed through their elaborate mating rituals in the effort to attract females. No sexual language is used and young viewers probably won't make much of the few times male birds briefly mate with their female partners. But the bright feather colors, exacting habits, fanciful choreography, and wry commentary should keep kids interested.
What's the story?
DANCING WITH THE BIRDS offers a stunning, light-hearted look at the mating habits of colorful male jungle birds in New Guinea and other remote hotbeds of wildlife. Narrator Stephen Fry observes as the Black Sickle Bill and the MacGregor's Bowerbirds almost comically go through their motions. The tone is upbeat and appreciative, and even a little mocking. For example, the choreography of Carola's Parotia, a bird capable of heart-stopping dance moves in nine distinct parts no less, is set to T. Rex's "Cosmic Dancer." Other moves include the unforgettable matador dance, perch bounces, perch pivots, swaying bobs, and the distinctive hop-shake-fluff-shuffle. The twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise, a guy with twelve thin "wire" feathers hanging from his bright yellow rear end, uses all his attributes to magnetize prospective mates. "Female twelve-wired birds like to be flicked across the face by a male's tale," the narrator informs over images of a female enthusiastically pointing her beak right into the buzz of moving "wires." The King-of-Saxony-Bird-of-Paradise has an odd cha cha, and male birds who work in pairs, Lance-tailed Manakins, leap-frog over each other to charm and impress females. Equally entertaining is the fact that generally the females looking on seem far more like skeptical Olympic gymnastics judges than romance-drunk swooners. That's why some of the hardworking males will never mate no matter how hard they try, no matter how strictly they adhere to rituals, and no matter how many hours they practice. As the film informs us, they are nevertheless programmed to persevere.
Is it any good?
At 51 minutes, this documentary makes a succinct and entertaining introduction to the secret life of birds for kids interested in wildlife. British narrator Fry delivers comic and pithy observations in Dancing with the Birds using a Monty Python-esque intonation of irony mixed with admiration. One bird ruffles his shoulder feathers so he can turn himself into an attractive torpedo shape. Another puffs up so that his erect black feathers build a wall in order to display two purple dots resembling eerie eyes. Another builds a tower to attract females, obsessively hanging dead flowers and plant sap like Christmas ornaments from protruding dead twigs, a winning strategy, it turns out. A Bowerbird decorating his tower to perfection hangs, unhangs and hangs again such sticky stuff and Fry looks on approvingly. "Perfect," he pronounces.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how researchers and photographers manage to get such close looks at animals in the wild. What strategies can you imagine photographers use to capture animal behaviors in documentaries like Dancing with the Birds?
Do any of the bird behaviors remind you of human behaviors? What are some similarities?
How does this compare to other nature documentaries you've seen? How can you learn more about the birds featured here?
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