25 November 2016

Disney's deceptive "White Wilderness"

The video above has exited excerpts from the 1958 classic, which was recently discussed in a report on nature documentaries:
But most infamous of all was the lemming sequence, also in White Wilderness. Ironically, the film-makers set out of disprove the myth that the animals sometimes commit mass suicide. Instead, they show what appears to be hundreds of lemmings “migrating” senselessly into the sea. “It’s not given to man to understand all of nature’s mysteries,” says Winston Hibler in his best fireside tones. “But, as nearly as he can surmise, it would appear that these lemmings consider this body of water just another lake.”

In fact, man did know better, or some men did – because the footage was shot in Alberta, Canada, where there aren’t any lemmings. To fix this problem, the crew paid children in Canada’s northern Manitoba region 25¢ per lemming to round some up. The animals were then driven south and placed on purpose-built turntables to make it seem like a horde of them was passing the camera. Finally, they were taken to the Bow river and shovelled off the bank. “Soon,” we are told, to the sound of a mournful clarinet, “the Arctic Sea is dotted with tiny bobbing bodies.”

Despite drowning very convincingly, the brown lemmings were actually miscast, because that species does not migrate. It’s the yellow-tufted Norway lemming they should have had. Whatever. White Wilderness and The Living Desert each won an Oscar, and Disney continues to market the films, and other True-Life Adventures, despite Roy Disney himself having said: “There was a time when we were presenting a lot of footage – that we knew was staged – as having occurred naturally.”


  1. I suspect that a lot of the nature shows are set up and edited a lot. This Disney one is just one example.

    1. Well even the BBC interleave shots from captive animals with those of wild animals (for instance, animals giving birth might be doing so in captivity) but they aren't faking behaviour for the sake of a better story.


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