There's a grand concept to Seasons, the animal-observation doc from the creators of Winged Migration and Oceans, but in practice the film, a beauty, is about animals surprising you. You'll be pleasantly engaged in observing a bird standing there after a snowfall, and then a snowbank will shudder a little until from it emerges the head of a lynx, looking just as goofy and yawning as your cat shaking off a pile of laundry. Here's another lynx, in verdant woods, standing at attention until its cub vaults into the frame and seizes its neck in a wrestle-hug of claws and fur. Here's a billygoat, grand and fluffed-up as a parade float, breaking the silence with one mad bray.
Directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud give us marquee mammals, too, of course: There's wolf chases, wild stallions nickering at each other, bears in roaring, brush-trampling confrontation. But they're also into field mice and hedgehogs. The crew captured this footage over four years, and it's entrancing enough that, for most of the film, I wasn't worrying over what was staged and what wasn't. But occasionally, as in Winged Migration, the trickery pushes the film into dramatic sequences and FX fiction.
The film purports to examine tens of thousands of years of European wildlife, starting in an Ice Age and cruising through the rise of man and the continent's subsequent deforestation and pollution. Our ancestors slowly edge into the action -- one of those stagy dramatic scenes involves the domestication of dogs. As cities spring up, the big mammals light out for the mountains, and eventually the filmmakers cut from spewing smokestacks to a hellscape of dying bees.