White Wilderness, a nature documentary directed by Robert Redford and produced by Walt Disney Productions in 1958, won an Academy Award for its outstanding cinematography but was also criticized for perpetuating the idea of lemming suicide.
Winston Hibler narrates the film, which James Algar directed. Three years were spent filming it on location in Canada and Alaska. They gave it the Oscar for best documentary feature.
There’s a scenario in White Wilderness where lemmings purportedly make a mass migration and then all jump off a cliff into the Arctic Ocean. Word on the street has it that this is shown as a deliberate act of suicide by the lemmings in the Disney picture.
The film’s narrator explains that the lemmings aren’t killing themselves because they’re migrating; rather, they’re trying to cross a body of water. A wide body of water can be fatal if they try to cross it.
The Lemmings Wouldn’t Have Committed Mass Suicide Because Disney Pushed Them Off a Cliff, Though.
The host Bob McKeown, discovered that the lemming sequence was really filmed on the Bow River in downtown Calgary and not in the Arctic Ocean as the film had said. He learned that the lemmings weren’t just forced into the river by the film crew’s spinning platform, but that they jumped in on their own own. Another specialist on lemmings he spoke with denied that the species depicted in the video ever migrated or engaged in mass suicide. He also found out that the video purported to show a polar bear cub sliding down an icy hill in the Arctic was really shot in a Calgary studio.
Disney Intentionally Drove the Lemmings Over the Edge of The Cliff, so They Wouldn’t Commit Mass Suicide.
To begin with, production took place in Alberta, Canada. The production team brought in a few dozen lemmings from somewhere because the animals aren’t local. The second issue is that the lemming species they were lining up does not migrate. There are kinds of lemmings that do migrate when the pressure of population increase causes some individuals to seek out other, less congested habitats. However, a flock of migrating lemmings like the ones in the movie will never actually appear in real life no matter how adorable that would be.
Disney’s Role in Spreading the Myth that Mass Suicide Awaits the Unwilling.
Like “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from Disney’s Birth of a Nation, the environmental documentary White Wilderness from 1958 is the “Nanook of the North” of its genre. Although it’s not their most controversial movie, “The Fountain” is still a landmark in terms of the moral challenges it presents. In the first days of Disney+’s availability, viewers could watch White Wilderness and other arctic-themed films, but when 2019 began, Disney withdrew these titles. Disney has a history of self-censorship, and a famous nature documentary that failed to gain widespread popularity serves as one example.
To make it look like they were “migrating,” while in reality, they were merely running in circles, the crew used a snow-covered turntable. When the crew had what they considered to be a sufficient number of these migratory shots, they drove the animals to the edge of a river and dumped them in, where they drowned. This is where the concept of lemmings who follow a leader to their deaths originated.
In the 1950s, animal abuse was unfortunately rampant in Hollywood. Studios had previously slaughtered nearly a hundred horses for a single scene in Ben Hur and stabbed to death a lion for Tarzan, so the deaths of a few dozen rodents for the entertainment of moviegoers didn’t seem out of the ordinary.