Reindeer, Donald Sutherland (narrator)
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…delightful and feel-good…
Pondering deep questions about existentialism and climate-change, Finnish reindeer documentary Ailo’s Journey is told with the thematic sensibilities of a Disney film. And considering where technology is today with photo-realistic animation, it could very much be confused for one.
Writer-director Guillaume Maidatchevsky covers the migration of newborn fawn Ailo, a reindeer in the Finnish Lapland, and his herd over one year. Regardless of how cute they may be, it isn’t easy being a reindeer. The constant threat of predators, separation and the changing seasonal landscapes (beautifully captured on screen by cinematographer Teemu Liakka) show that the life of a reindeer is more dramatic than anything mustered up by Shakespeare.
Maidatchevsky has an easy job making viewers care for an adorable fawn. Ailo’s non-violent and clumsy mobility makes him easy prey and a magnet for audience ‘awws’.
Where Ailo’s Journey stumbles, like a newborn fawn into powdered snow, is with the doco’s unnecessary need to humanise the drama. If The Lion King remake has taught 2019 anything, it is that animals – whether real or live-action – are unable to emote when given Shakespearian storytelling.
The film’s desire to display cinematic storytelling qualities – overly dramatic aspect ratios, bizarre face-to-face animal interactions, and sweeping Tolkien-esque shots – that are overproduced and conflicting with the integrity of documentary filmmaking.
Ailo’s Journey romanticises nature as though it were misunderstood. It then segues into muttering seldom-seen environmentalist critiques that deliver little humph. Cute side-stories offer a fleeting glimpse into the kind-side of nature. That is until Maidatchevsky brings folk back into the cruel kill-or-be-killed reality of the wild. These additions offer little to the story but provide some much-needed whimsy.
Donald Sutherland’s gift-of-the-narrational-gab gives David Attenborough a run for his money. No one wants Ailo to succeed more than the compassionate Sutherland. He provides charming quips and a comforting, soft-spoken tone that infuses Ailo’s Journey with an added layer of personality.
Despite its over-the-top direction, it is hard to deny the delightful and feel-good nature of Ailo’s Journey.