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Narrative-Driven Nature Documentary

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A dramatized story based on the real lives of Africa's most charismatic animals.

The traditional way of doing Nature Documentaries is to present them in a serious, matter-of-fact way. Popularized in the 2000s, however, a new form began to emerge.

These newer documentaries lean more on edutainment than previous ones. They dramatize and humanize the animals, often bordering on xenofiction. The main animals will usually be referred to by names and their lives will be told in a dramatic, anthropomorphic manner.

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African animals, and especially Big Cats in general, are the main target of these documentaries due to their popularity, though other species star in them as well. However, they are quite prone to What Measure Is a Non-Cute?; "ugly" or less easy-to-decipher animals such as reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, and other invertebrates rarely get star billing in these types of documentaries. Due to the fact predators are usually the focus of the documentaries, Predators Are Mean is usually averted. Scavengers Are Scum, however, is still game (though with scavengers being vicious rivals, rather than outright slimeballs). Overall though, the works try to show that Predation Is Natural and that animals aren't "bad" just because of their diets.

Often times these series will refer to families as if they're royalty, such as referring to leaders as "kings" and "queens".

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You can near guarantee that these documentaries will avert Infant Immortality hard. As wild animals have a high infancy mortality rate, at least one youngster will die and if a mother has two children then it's unlikely both will survive. Nature Is Not Nice is a constant theme in these types of documentaries. They thrive on showing how cruel life in the wild can be.


Examples:

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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Animals Are Beautiful People has a tongue-and-cheek narration and occasionally anthropomorphizes the animals.
  • State of Dogs is a 1998 Mongolian documentary about dogs. It starts with Baasar, a stray dog who is shot by a hunter trying to cull the feral and stray dog population. The documentary revolves around Baasar's desire to reincarnate into a human (which comes from Mongolian legend).
  • The Ur-Example are the True Life Adventures documentaries produced by Walt Disney during the 1950s. While presenting animals in natural situations and paying lip service to the ruthlessness of "Nature's way", it also wasn't above anthropomorphizing the creatures depicted, often reveling in lighter moments and adding wry commentary. Disney even produced a "True-Life Fantasy", an adaptation of Bambi author Felix Salten's book Perri using nature footage shot especially for it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Big Cat Tales tells the tales of a mother leopard named Bahati, a mother cheetah named Malaika, and the Marsh pride of lions.
  • Planet Earth: Dynasties is a dramatized documentary about families of animals. Each episode (besides the penguin episode) focuses on a specific family, such as the Marsh pride of lions in Lion.
  • Fight for Life: The first episode revolves around a lioness named Nyota as she tries to keep her five-month old son Moja alive without a pride.
  • Game of Lions is a documentary that tells the stories of several adolescent lions as they're driven out of their prides. The lions are described as "kings" looking for their own kingdoms.
  • Meerkat Manor is the Trope Codifier. It's a series showcasing the lives of two groups of meerkats in a Reality TV-esque manner. In its case, it was known that the show uses some manipulative editing for narrative reasons. Meerkat Manor uses several different individuals to 'play' the same meerkat.
  • Rise Of The Warrior Apes is a dramatized documentary about the lives of two rival chimpanzee troops.
  • Savage Kingdom takes place in Savute, Africa. It's a documentary series about rival animal clans who are at war with each other in a never-ending conflict for survival. The story starts with queen Matsumi and her pride of Marsh lions. The different species have their own "kingdoms". It focuses on African wild-dogs, hyenas, leopards, and lions.
  • Serengeti focuses on one year in the lives of several animals living in the Serengeti. It features both predator and prey animals, which means there aren't any "bad guy" characters.
  • Walking with Beasts: Building upon the success of Walking with Dinosaurs, Beasts had a much tighter narrative focus in each of episodes and clearly defined characters than its predecessor, such as a Smilodon fatalis called Half-Tooth. Despite this, it still very much acts out as a nature documentary, even going so far as to be Darker and Edgier than Dinosaurs.
  • Walking with Dinosaurs:
    • Prehistoric Planet, a Lighter and Softer cut of Walking with Dinosaurs aimed at children, did this. The main series is more traditional.
    • Walking with Dinosaurs is predominantly a traditional documentary (insofar as a series about dinosaurs can be considered such) but even it uses narrative tropes, such as Scavengers Are Scum.
    • The Walking with Dinosaurs movie takes this even further, by giving every dinosaur shown his name and personality.
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