America the Beautiful, narrated by Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, Creed), explores the ecological diversity of North America.
It seems only fitting that America the Beautiful released on July 4, 2022, as the Disney+ documentary is primarily about the wonders that can be found right here within the United States.
The documentary comes from the award-winning producers of Planet Earth, Frozen Planet, and the Disneynature films. As a result, you can expect stunning visuals, heartwarming stories, and plenty of interesting facts to keep you entertained throughout its six-episode run.
Actor Michael B. Jordan gives us the lay of the land as soon as you hit play on the first episode: “Welcome to North America, the most diverse continent on earth. The only place where you can find every landscape from polar ice cap to baking desert and everything in between. Whatever the neighborhood, there’s a hero who can make it a home. Smart, tough, brave, you name it. They all have what it takes to thrive in the wildest, most beautiful continent on earth.”
Episode 1, “Land of Heroes,” celebrates America’s biodiversity, giving us an overview of what’s to come. We get a few specific stories, such as the bear versus the squirrel as well as the American alligator’s struggle to find food, but this episode is also about fulfilling the series’ promise to show us the wide range of landscapes and the various species that make their homes here.
It may surprise you to discover that the United States contains such astonishing biodiversity, or that it’s also home to the most dramatic swing in temperature over the course of 24 hours ever recorded on Earth. America the Beautiful contains dozens of such extreme factoids, and it will give you a newfound appreciation for this part of the world.
The next four episodes explore different regions of the continent, as described in their titles: “Waterland,” “Northland,” “Wild West,” and “Heartland.” The documentary mostly centers on the United States (and a portion of Canada), despite the fact that North America, as a continent, stretches from as far north as Greenland to as far south as Panama.
Still, there is much to see and appreciate when it comes to this part of the world, and America the Beautiful captures plenty of stunning footage over the course of six episodes.
In episode 2, “Waterland,” we visit the southeast, where swampland reigns supreme. You may associate this part of the world with alligators—and you’d be right—but the episode’s opening shot is that of a black bear walking through waist-high water on her hind legs, carrying her cubs to the safety of land one at a time.
Footage like this is not only heartwarming, it’s also rare. This is the first time anyone has ever seen—let alone filmed—an act such as this. And the rarity of America the Beautiful‘s videography doesn’t stop there. We also get to see the elusive Florida panther, which we revisit later in the series as well.
Episode 3, “Northland,” explores the northern part of the continent and all the animals that have learned to cope with such extreme temperatures. We witness the battle between wolves and ox, and find out which will come out on top, predator or prey.
The part in this episode I found most intriguing was footage of a whale carcass that had washed up on shore, and the half dozen or so grizzly bears gathered to feast on it. It’s rare to see so many bears, especially males, in one location, as they are notoriously territorial and aggressive to their competition. Yet to see them join together for a meal (and a subsequent nap) was fascinating and astounding in equal measure.
Next up, we visit the southwest part of the United States in “Wild West.” There’s another first in this episode—a mountain lion has been filmed in the Grand Canyon for the first time. We also get a glimpse at honey pot ants, which I knew nothing about prior to this documentary and found particularly interesting.
Episode 5, entitled “Heartland,” visits the middle of America, which is described as the most changeable place on earth. Those of us who live here might not realize what wonders our home holds, but America the Beautiful supports its argument with plenty of visual evidence.
Lastly, episode 6, “Brave New World,” is the perfect end cap for this series, as it dives into various conservation efforts found throughout the continent. This is the only episode that features humans, and all of them are working hard to preserve both the land and the species we’ve seen throughout the previous five episodes.
These conservation leaders are fighting to save the buffalo and the Great Plains, introducing the species back to this land and working with ranchers to preserve this part of America so future generations can experience its wonder.
On another part of the continent, conservationists are rebuilding the Florida panther populations, as well as those of local bears, by installing a corridor underneath a major highway. It has greatly reduced the chances of animal deaths without impeding human travel.
Overall, America the Beautiful is a snapshot look at what North America has to offer. Not only did I learn more about how changeable our environments can be, I also met some new animals and checked in on some old favorites.
The biggest takeaway from this series was humankind’s efforts to preserve not only our various ecosystems but the animals that live there. Michael B. Jordan’s narration was a welcome constant, at times gentle and somber, and at others upbeat and silly. The wonder in his voice is contagious, and you’ll find yourself engrossed in what America the Beautiful has to offer.
Watch ‘America the Beautiful’ on Disney+ now!
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