So I find out I’m going to review a film called Meerkat Manor. My research tells me it’s actually a television show on Animal Planet, but I still didn’t know much. Was this some kind of animal version of The Tudors? And what exactly is a meerkat, anyway? The answer to all of these questions arrived one sunny morning via UPS on my front door. I yawned my way to the door and picked up the nondescript package that fell over with a flop as I opened my home to the bright
This semi-documentary works as a prequel to the semi-popular series on Animal Planet now entering a fourth season. This is the story of Flower, the matriarch of the Whiskers family. The whiskers have a territory that happens to neighbor the Lazuii family. They’ve got their eye on the Whiskers’ operation at right about the time Big Momma’s had her pups, which include Flower. Don Lazuii orders a hit on the Whiskers, trying to clip the young ones, but the buttonkats are run off before they can finish the job. The attempt doesn’t stop the Lazuii from eventually taking over the Whiskers operations. The Whiskers hit the mattresses across the road where food and resources are scarce. When Big Momma finally kicks it there’s a struggle for control, and Flower’s big sis takes over the joint. When she falls victim to a drive by, it’s up to Flower to lead the family back across the street and into their old digs. Finally it’s Flower’s turn to run the operation. She organizes her capos and performs a blitz on the Lazuii family. Here the Whiskers’ operation flourishes. Eventually Flower gets retired by a cobra, but she leaves the family strong. It is here that the television series picks up the story.
The entire affair is narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. Whoopi can’t be blamed for the overdramatic script, but she lacks in the delivery department. I’m told Sean Astin provides the television series narration, and I expect it is superior to this strictly sleepy time delivery. The true star of the film has to be the meerkats themselves. They’re not quite as cute as I expected, but they are a fascinating group to watch. There is an almost human character to their expressions. The Kalahari settings are nothing short of remarkable. This is a vast area of scrub brush and sand. As it happens the sand is good for digging, and meerkats appear nicely content to spend a day doing just that. While the film is intended as a prequel, it was actually shot after the series began.
Meerkat Manor is presented in its original intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio enhanced to widescreen television screens. The picture is often stunning in detail. The crew used impressive HD camera equipment, and the result is plenty of detail and sharp images. There’s not a lot of color here because the landscape and the meerkats are all pretty much a drab brown. What the film lacks in exciting colors it more than makes up for with detail. Black levels are nicely done as well. There is a decidedly documentary feel here, but it is definitely a step up from the nature programs we’re used to seeing.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is somewhat wasted here. For the most part we get Whoopi’s narration, which is always clear and easy to hear. There are some nice natural sounds, but they don’t really give us the same vast experience that the picture does. Almost everything happens in front of us. A notable exception is a thunderstorm that uses a far wider sound field than the majority of the presentation. I’m sure it is equal or likely superior to that which fans of the show have come to expect from their broadcasts.
Making Of Meerkat Manor: The British crew appear to have been making the film for a box office release. There are constant references to “the Big Screen” throughout this 21 minute piece. To the best of my knowledge it has only aired on The Animal Planet and not in theatres. This is a nice behind the scenes tour with plenty of attention on the animals. The piece offers a good look at the equipment used and how they managed to work so closely with these wild, but habituated, animals.
The Science Of Meerkat Manor: The feature centers on the researchers at the preserve where these meerkats live. They show us how they interact with the animals as well as how they managed to habituate them to human, and camera, presence. These folks are gaga over meerkats. The researchers also address the sometimes controversial nature of their non-interference directives. They do nothing to help sick or wounded animals, allowing nature to prevail in all cases. They attempt to remain as clinical as possible, but it’s all too clear here that they are often not very successful. They claim their use of habituation does not alter the habits of the animals, but that’s just plain old BS.
Sneak Peek At Season Four: This short piece introduces us to the “new” order of the Whiskers family and what to expect going into the next season.
I can see why these furry guys can be so addictive. I’ve always kept a rather large number of animals myself, so there was a bit of an attraction here for me as well. Unfortunately, I just don’t find these guys that cute. There’s obvious influence from the hugely popular March Of The Penguins here. The human story given to these little guys gets a little thick at times. In the beginning we’re treated to an almost Christ-like birth of Flower. Whoopi tells us that it’s said that the windstorms ceased and Earth “turned its other cheek” at Flower’s birth. I kept looking for some wise men and a few shepherds to come along at any moment. I should also warn this may not be suitable for the little ones. This is nature, and some of these guys die. One in particular is bitten by a cobra, and the film lingers on the dying meerkat complete with spasms and whimpering cries. Obviously the film is intended to create a little buzz going into season four. “Yes, it’s all about the timing.”