USA Today says this about the upcoming documentary Babies, "If you were enraptured by just-hatched creatures of March of the Penguins, wait until you see Babies." Call me cynical, but it seems very Homosapien-centric to compare what amounts to a global collection of cute baby moments to the amazing, arduous, and rarely-documented breeding cycle of a completely different species.
I don't doubt there are interesting aspects to how different cultures raise their children, but the point of Babies seems to be, first and foremost, showcasing cute babies doing cute things. Here's a large list of natural-world documentaries. Do you think Babies will one day be included on it? I don't see any of these films relying on "cute" or "adorable" as primary selling points.
I know what you're thinking: what the heck do I have against babies? Nothing, really -- I've raised three myself (and those are just the humans). But if any of us get the urge to see cute babies in action, all we have to do is attend a Mommy & Me play group, visit a Build-a-Bear, or pick up an Anne Geddes book. Given all the under-addressed real world subjects esteemed documentarians could focus on, why this?
Babies seems like "Baby Einstein" minus the toys, or the Elmo's World "Hello, Baby!" segment minus the funny furry guy. All that's left is a study in emotional manipulation in four different languages. How can you tell the difference between something moving and something manipulative? Moved audiences gasp and say, "Wow." Manipulated audiences mile and say, "Awwwwww." Watch the Babies trailer and clips and do the emotional math.
I'm guessing a large audience passing on Babies will be, ironically, current parents of newborns -- and not just because they don't get out much. Irritable and sleep-deprived, the last thing they want to sit through is a movie about how constantly sweet and fun-to-raise other parents' kids are. In terms of the highs and lows of realistic parenting, Babies probably makes Jon & Kate Plus 8 look like the real documentary.
But cute babies do hold enormous sway in any medium, regardless of context. The Daily Candy writes in their review, "Warning: Babies is intended for mature audiences only. If you can't handle an excess of chubby cheeks and naked tushies, this film is not for you." Anthony Lane is now going to have to rewrite his lead.
If you're truly looking forward to Babies, I recommend the following list of follow-up documentary ideas inspired by this one:
"Shelter Puppies, The Movie"
"Cute Things That Breathe, The Movie"
"Curious Kittens, The Movie"
"Things My Kids Have Drawn With Crayons, The Movie"
"Real Letters to Santa, The Movie"
"The 1969 Photo Album in My Mom's Attic, The Movie"
Like Babies, these movies would also "capture on film the earliest stages of the journey that are at once unique and universal to us all". The question is, what have we really learned from this wild baby safari, other than the shocking revelation that all babies do cute things, often with animals present?