Complete with wild dingo chases, wombat attacks and kangaroo wrestling, all within 76 minutes, Kylie Stott’s “Kangaroo Valley” is an entertaining documentary for all ages.
This heartwarming, coming-of-age tale about a kangaroo and her mob is Stott’s feature film debut following a career of primarily television work. “Kangaroo Valley” is also a bit of a departure for writer Tab Murphy who’s famous for writing films like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Tarzan” and “Brother Bear,” and narrator Sarah Snook, who’s known for her acting roles in movies like “An American Pickle” and “Steve Jobs.”
Although these folks are stepping out of their comfort zones, they manage to craft a fine documentary. The shot variety, the focus on other members of the ecosystem and the naturally adorable nature of nature all work for “Kangaroo Valley.”
In keeping with the relentless circle of life, “Kangaroo Valley” begins and ends with the birth of a new generation of kangaroos. Our main character Mala the eastern gray kangaroo lives in an Australian valley with her fellow roos and a slew of other animals like a pack of dingoes, flocks of wagtails, a crabby wombat and many more cute creatures.
This film documents Mala’s first year outside of her mother’s pouch as she tries to navigate life as a member of her kangaroo mob. She and her fellow valley inhabitants face predator/prey relationships and the hardships of merciless weather in the fight for survival.
Murphy’s writing constructs a loving narrative with a message about the persistence of life. It’s almost inspiring to see how far Mala comes in the span of a year, going from the pouch to the wide open spaces of Australia. It also puts perspective on just how reliant ecosystems are for the creatures that live within them. Kangaroos rustle up insects during the warm seasons for Willie the wagtail and his flock to eat. Warrin the grumpy wombat counts on a mutual agreeance with the other animals to be left alone so he can live his life in peace.
The narrative only lacks in that it’s so PG it side-steps hard truths. It’s implied that dingoes hunt and eat kangaroos, but it’s never shown to solidify the claim. For (what seems like) the sake of children’s innocence, it leaves certain story elements vague, like if the kangaroo leader Bamir is actually taken down by dingoes and what happens to Miro the dingo since he can’t catch food for himself. In doing so, the stakes never feel particularly high for any of the animals because the movie waters down the harshness of life.
Besides that, the story is told through overall great filmmaking. Long continuous shots from helicopters that show a dingo chase keep viewers engaged while other creative shots, like one from within Warrin wombat’s burrow, draw admiration from the viewer. There’s a dark sequence, illuminated by glow-in-the-dark blooming fungi and glow worms that nearly makes you forget the entire plot and want to simply explore the beauty of nature.
Since the film takes place over an entire year, it’s clear how much work Stott and her crew put into making “Kangaroo Valley.” The footage captured, whether it be serious like kangaroo mating rituals or silly like how roos scratch their bellies, shows that their hard work paid off.
With all the lovely B-roll, some of it has nothing to do with the story. It’s clear that still shots of leaves and grass only exist to fill time and provide visual contrast. It’s understandable where Matt Meech’s head was at while editing, but the audience only wants to see slow-mo kangaroo hopping races and wombat cuddling.
“Kangaroo Valley” screened at the Roxy Theater during the International Wildlife Film Festival, but is also available to stream on Netflix.