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Take a highly successful television series and think about what you can possibly do to get a little more money out of it. Perhaps that was the general idea behind Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins. Or maybe the motivation was to introduce fans of the show to how exactly all of this came about and where it originated from. That doesn’t sound too bad considering how good the series truly is and it would be nice to get a little more background information on it. Whatever the reasoning behind making it was, The Story Begins tells another heartwarming chapter in the storied life of the Whiskers, but it does one thing wrong. It is narrated by someone entirely new.
Flower is a meerkat. A meerkat is a small ferret like creature that lives usually in South Africa or other hot desert terrains. Flower actually lives in the Kalahari Desert with her family, the Whiskers. Together they are their own clan and do just what they normally do in everyday situations. As a family, they search for food, burrow out their own dens in which to live, and constantly seek protection from each other. Meerkat Manor may seem like some other animal shows that follow around certain species, but it is filled with much more compassion and love then even most series with human beings in it. This is the premise of the hit Animal Planet television series, Meerkat Manor, but The Story Begins goes back in time for us to see where it all began.
Everything in this film is almost exactly the same as it is in the series itself, except we’ve gone back in time a bit. We are able to see Flower as a young meerkat pup and the struggles she had to overcome growing up. It’s cute that her earliest days are shown and it’s kind of weird seeing Flower as this innocent and weak little thing after the strong-willed leader we have come to know her as. More shots of Africa are shown as well so viewers are able to see the type of lands and wonders that surround these young meerkats. If you’re a fan of the show though, you’ll realize they deal with a lot of hardships and aren’t always near the beautiful waterfalls or tall rock structures.
The Story Begins continues to show what Flower’s mother had to deal with is a lot of the same things she would deal with later on in life. That includes finding the best places for her family to live without having to deal with rival tribes like the Lazuli who are very similar to future enemies, the Zappas. Other troubles like the harsh natural elements and dangers such as snakes always plague the lives of the meerkats, but sticking together is one of the main reasons they can overcome all those obstacles. It’s very cool watching the entire clan work together to get rid of a cobra after one of the little ones is attacked.
Besides being very similar to the series with some funny moments and extremely sad times; there really isn’t much new in The Story Begins. That’s not to say it isn’t good because if you’re a fan of the series then you’re going to love this. But still it makes you wonder why this wasn’t originally aired or filmed before season one of Meerkat Manor. Another thing to wonder is why Whoopi Goldberg was chosen as the narrator for this special. Sean Astin has done a wonderful job as narrator for the American version of Meerkat Manor and would have done just as well here. Goldberg’s voice is annoying at first, but you get used to it after a while and pay more attention to what is going on then her speaking. It is amazing how much these little creatures can tug at your heart strings or make your face light up, but they know all the right buttons to press for every emotion.
The film is shown in Widescreen format and it looks as good as the television series always does. So many lush environments in Africa from the beautiful plains and mountains to the almost colorless deserts. Everything shows up terrifically.
The film is heard in Dolby Digital Stereo Sound and it comes through nicely as well. Goldberg’s narration is not too loud and overpowering of the noises from nature and the meerkats themselves. She keeps a nice docile tone that works with what is happening on screen. The musical score is quite beautiful and also does a nice job of filling in the background or jumping up to be the main attraction without ever being too overbearing.
The Making Of Meerkat Manor – How the filmmakers were able to get the meerkats to be anywhere near them with all of the crew and equipment around is beyond me. The producers, directors, and film crew all discuss how they enjoyed being a part of this project and what it was like filming in the desert. It’s really neat listening to everyone as they are so strong-willed and feel so passionate about these creatures that it is obvious they aren’t just exploiting them but honestly care about their well-being. This feature lasts twenty-one and a half minutes.
The Science Of Meerkat Manor – It’s now time for the researchers and scientists to speak on the series and what they’ve contributed to it. They were happy that their work was now being looked at by more then just themselves and could be enjoyed by millions of people. They say that they do as little invasion into the colonies as possible to get the information needed so as not to totally disturb the meerkats. This feature also lasts twenty-one and a half minutes, but it is my favorite out of the two.
Sneak Peek At The New Season of Meerkat Manor – A short four and a half minute look at the series.
This DVD would be a good one to get for those that love the series already and for those who have never seen it before. If you’ve never seen it before, it may actually be better in your eyes. You’ll get the full effect of it all and introduced to the series and also to Flower before seeing her in all her glory that we have come to know and love. Fans of the series already will be happy to see a little background on her and the Whiskers family, but won’t be seeing anything new that they don’t already witness in episode to episode. Getting past Goldberg’s throaty narration takes a little bit of time, but The Story Begins makes for a great way to spend a couple hours. The main feature is incredibly enjoyable with all the emotion that Meerkat Manor has brought for three seasons so far. The special features total up to about forty-five minutes and are fantastic looks behind the scenes at the wonderful people that take such good care of and work with the little animals. I highly recommend picking up a copy of this DVD and experiencing it first hand.
The Weinstein Company presents Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins. Directed by: Chris Barker & Mike Slee. Starring: Whoopi Goldberg (Narrator). Written by: Judy Morris & Michael Olmert. Running time: 75 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: June 3, 2008. Available at Amazon.com