Pelican Dreams

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Pelican Dreams Movie Poster Image
Seabirds shine in leisurely paced, educational documentary.
  • G
  • 2014
  • 79 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Filled with visuals and narration transporting audiences into the world of pelicans. The birds, their natural habitats, the efforts of dedicated animal protectors and medical personnel, and miraculous natural events are beautifully explored and explained.

Positive Messages

Reinforces the miraculous nature of birds, the importance of protecting the natural habitats of distinctive creatures, and the devotion of some humans to the rehabilitation of damaged birds and animals. Shows how each living being is deserving of respect, attention, and loving care. Promotes the interrelatedness of species and the value of each of them. Emphasizes the dangers of human intrusion on nature and the devastating effects of climate change and pollution.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All human participants are selfless, strongly value each living being, and are able to see uniqueness in each of the creatures in their care. Without exception, they're committed to making the world a safer and better place for the animals they serve.

Violence & Scariness

Part of the story concerns birds who have been injured or rendered flightless by either natural or human-caused events (for example, an oil spill). Some of the newly hatched pelicans do not survive; their lifeless bodies are visible, and the narrator explains why they've died. Opening sequence shows a frightened wild bird on the Golden Gate Bridge as officials try to rescue her; she is ultimately saved, but there are a few tense moments. 

Sexy Stuff

A scene briefly shows two pelicans mating.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pelican Dreams, a documentary centered on the California coast, provides a gently educational look at a unique species of bird. Filmmaker and narrator Judy Irving takes her time to present an in-depth picture of pelicans in general and focuses on the plight of two at-risk birds who need help from their human planet-mates. Audiences will come to know and root for "Gigi" and "Morro" while admiring a number of devoted and talented people who have made bird survival their life's work. As in any careful depiction of the natural world, a few moments of sadness occur, both in the narration and on camera. Some baby chicks don't survive their first hours; predators threaten. Though the arc of the two vulnerable birds provides the drama, there's little plot, so the film may not hold the interest of very young kids or those who might not respond to a slow-paced, simple tale set in the natural world. For audiences who engage, however, pelicans will emerge as another wondrous example of life's diversity, with distinct personalities, strong survival mechanisms, and miraculous resilience.

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What's the story?

PELICAN DREAMS opens with a suspenseful scene in which a very frightened pelican has landed on and becomes stranded on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Cars have stopped; workers have arrived on the scene to attempt a rescue. For those few minutes, the busy lives of everyone on the bridge is in limbo. Fortunately for filmmaker Judy Irving, she was on the bridge with her camera. As her narration tells us, and as her earlier successful film The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill has shown us, Irving is passionate about flight, birds, and nature. Once Gigi (named for the Golden Gate) is saved, the audience follows her to the place where she'll be treated and rehabilitated. Then, hopefully, she'll be sent back into the wild so she can spend her long life diving for anchovies, finding a partner, and giving birth to baby pelicans. As Gigi's adventure continues, pelican life in general is explored. The audience meets another endangered bird; Morro, too, emerges as a heroic protagonist. A visit to other bird facilities and sanctuaries -- as well as to the Channel Islands, the Pacific Coast's only pelican breeding ground -- broadens the movie's scope and brings the amazing birds and their committed caregivers to life.

Is it any good?

The movie features warmhearted, carefully selected visuals, along with a very personal narration delivered by filmmaker Judy Irving. This intimately focuses Pelican Dreams on the birds, their habitats, and the humans who look out for them. The film encourages respect for living creatures and succeeds in defining the singularity and specialness of individual birds, as well as of a species. The drama is quiet, suspenseful only in the audience's concern for the welfare of the birds. Will those in whom we've invested our time and emotions survive and successfully make it back to their natural world? The movie moves slowly, taking time to show the beauty of motion even in this species of bird that, at a glance, appears somewhat awkward or clumsy. The film is about more than bird migration and survival. Recommended for family viewing. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how an audience's view of pelicans is changed by watching this movie. Had you ever even thought about them? Noticed their uniqueness? How will you see them now? Why do documentaries about nature affect our vision of the world and develop our respect for other creatures? 

  • Talk about the people who have chosen to spend years or lifetimes taking care of pelicans or other natural creatures. What do they have in common? What do you think they give up to do this kind of work? What do they get in return?

  • Why was the scene showing Morro coming into the house an important part of this movie? What did the filmmaker hope to achieve by including it? Was she successful? What other incidents helped bring Morro's personality to light?

Movie details

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