This time it is (Canadian) Donald Sutherland, giving an entirely eccentric vocal performance with little giggles and laughs as he tells the story of Ailo’s progress to adulthood. Sutherland adopts the tone of a kindly grandpa reindeer, or perhaps God himself, looking down from a drone’s eye view. For younger kids, it might well work. For anyone over age 12, it will probably sound a little patronising.
The film is entirely scripted – images, as well as the words. Some of the shots defy explanation and wow the senses. For one brief shot, the camera offers us a view of the herd marching forward. They are coming straight at us, seemingly a few feet behind the camera, but this does not seem to be done with a long lens, so how? When Ailo and his mother are alone in the wilderness, looking for the herd, dodging wolves or playing with rabbits and Arctic foxes, I suspect we are seeing actors – as in trained reindeer.
That brings us to the question of veracity. In one sense this is not a nature documentary, but a very old-fashioned forced narrative about nature, in the style of Disney’s famous films of the 1950s. The presence of lemmings in this one reminded me of the notorious White Wilderness, in which Disney cameramen herded lemmings off a cliff, in order to show how they commit suicide (which they do not).
I doubt any reindeer was hurt making Ailo’s Journey. I don’t doubt some young children will find it magical and mesmerising. I don’t doubt anyone over the age of about 12 will smell a rat, so to speak. All nature documentaries are an exercise in subterfuge, to an extent, but give me David Attenborough any day.