Cast & Crew
N. Paul Kenworthy
Jack L. Atwood
To illustrate how nature creates a time and place for everything, the film follows a pine squirrel named Perri through each season of the year. During spring in a forest called Wildwood Heart, the resident animals raise their new babies. A male pine squirrel lives separately from his mate and brood, which includes the tiny Perri. One day, while Perri's mother searches for food, a hungry marten attacks her treetop nest. When Perri's father calls out to lure the marten away, the larger animal kills him, leaving Perri's mother to carry each of her children to a safer nest. Perri is the last baby to be moved, but manages to elude the marten by hiding under cedar shavings. The marten is finally distracted by a raccoon attacking her nest, but the raccoon is stung by a porcupine and so retreats. Later, other forest animals hunt one another, including a fox that kills a rabbit, which is then stolen by a wildcat after he chases the fox away. The beaver eats aspen trees, then makes a dam out of the remaining logs. After a nocturnal flying squirrel is disturbed by a sapsucker, it flies during daylight, which allows a goshawk to capture and kill it. At nightfall, most of the forest families settle in to sleep. Another day, the baby squirrels take their first steps onto the tree branches, then learn to hunt for food, as do the baby raccoons. Soon, summer comes, during which parents continue to teach their offspring survival skills. The father beaver shows his son how to build a dam, while the wildcat demonstrates for her cubs the correct way to pounce. Perri learns to jump from limb to limb. She tries to play with baby hummingbirds but the birds's mother chases her away, and later, she attempts to mimic a flying squirrel by diving off a high branch. Although unhurt, she lands in unfamiliar territory and is frightened. By the time she finds her home tree, her family is gone, and she must flee a marten, finally evading it by jumping into the creek. There, she is threatened anew by a wildcat, but is saved by a male pine squirrel named Porro, who distracts the cat. Perri eventually makes a safe nest for herself near the ancient hollow log in which Porro lives. In the autumn, leaves fall onto Wildwood Heart, blanketing the forest floor and causing Perri to lose her bearings. She is chased by a hawk and falls into a grove of crooked aspen trees, where a weasel pursues her high into the trees. When the hawk swoops down on both small animals, Perri jumps to safety and the hawk kills the weasel. Meanwhile, Porro is driven out of his log by a raccoon, and spends a night unprotected, running from owls. When he cannot find a suitable nest, he is forced to settle underground for the upcoming winter. Pine squirrels spend the winter in a state of semi-hibernation, and while the snow falls, Perri dreams about owls and rabbits under a full moon. Soon, spring returns, and the forest animals find mates. Perri responds to Porro's mating call, but a lightning storm interrupts their romance and causes a raging fire. Perri escapes by standing on a wildcat's back in the middle of the creek. Although she fears that Porro has fallen prey to a marten, he emerges unscathed, and they will soon be able to start a new family.
Jack L. Atwood
Robert O. Cook
Roy Edward Disney
Warren E. Garst
John P. Hermann
N. Paul Kenworthy
James R. Simon
Disney had great success in its "True-Life Adventure" documentaries, a series of natural history shorts and features presenting the life cycles of wild animals in their natural habitats with impressive photography, folksy narration, and a sense of humor between the moments of drama and danger. The first in the series, a short film called Seal Island (1948), won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject, and the first two features of the series, The Living Desert (1953) and The Vanishing Prairie (1954), won Oscars for Feature Documentary. Disney had created films that were both educational and popular.
There were fourteen official "True-Life Adventures" but Perri (1957), the twelfth in the series, was something a little different: "A true life fantasy," utilizing live action nature photography to tell a scripted story. According to Disney the wildlife research footage shot for the artists working on Bambi inspired the natural history series and Perri brings it full circle. It's based on a book by Felix Salten, the author of the original Bambi. Named for its main character, a young female squirrel, Perri follows the life of the pine squirrel from birth through young adulthood in a wild forest. Over the course of the film her father is killed drawing a marten way from the nest and, while she is scrambling back home after falling from the tree, her family is killed by predators. There are adorable scenes of mothers teaching their cubs and thrilling sequences of Perri scurrying to escape weasels, hawks, and a particularly dogged pine marten. Perri survives but the natural cycle of life is observed with an acceptance of the hierarchy of predators and prey: "Death is a necessary evil; some die that others may survive," gently explains the narrator.
Winston Hibler, who co-wrote and narrated the films of the series, was promoted to producer for this production and Paul Kenworthy, a naturalist with a doctorate from UCLA and a veteran wildlife photographer whose footage appeared in The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie, headed the photography unit of this film. Where the documentaries were put together from footage shot by independent cameramen and teams, this production demanded a coordinated effort. Kenworthy and his team scouted the Uintah Nation Forest in Utah for their location and found a glade in a pine forest around a beaver pond, which they dubbed Wildwood Heart. They set up camp with a variety of 16mm cameras, many of them developed for wildlife photography in Disney's own photographic department, and got to work. Cameras were hidden in blinds, suspended from guide wires, placed in warrens, and elevated on platforms to get tree-top footage. Telephoto lenses were used to observe from afar. The sound recordists worked separately to get the natural sounds of the animals at play and on the hunt.
The team picked their two stars, Perri and Porro, out of the local population of pine squirrels for their spirit, pluck, and playfulness, but they are part of a much bigger eco-system. The film presents the life cycle of all the animals of the glade--beavers, raccoons, ravens, hawks, foxes, and martens, as well as the squirrels--through the seasons. (For the family of bobcats, they had to hike their equipment a couple of miles to their den.) When a forest fire erupted nearby, the camera crew rushed to help the firefighters contain the blaze with a firebreak before they turned their cameras on to film the animals fleeing the disaster. The shoot lasted (on and off) for three years, shooting in all seasons, and resulted in over 200,000 feet of film. Additional winter photography was taken at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The wildlife footage was not staged but it was edited into a narrative over the long post-production period, where the 200,000 feet of raw footage was shaved down to 8,000 feet. Footage was manipulated for slow motion effects in some scenes, and there is even a hibernation dream sequence, a winter wonderland turned hunting ground where animals all escape their pursuers in a splash of animated snowflakes. A bright, colorful score was composed by Paul Smith (his work was rewarded with an Oscar nomination) and three songs written for the film. In keeping with the storytelling conceit, the seasons are renamed: the first spring is "the time of learning" for the newborn animals of all families and mating season is "a time of togetherness."
The True-Life Adventures ended in 1959 with Jungle Cat but Disney's nature documentaries continued on television on The Wonderful World of Disney (with Hibler continuing to narrate and produce many of them) and the legacy of the True-Life Adventures was revived in 2007 with the release of Earth, the first film under the banner of Disneynature. A new series of natural history documentaries made for family viewing in the theaters and on home video was born.
The Disney Films, Leonard Maltin. Crown, 1973.
"Disneyland: Adventure in Wildwood Heart," episode directed by Hamilton Luske. Walt Disney Productions, 1957.
By Sean Axmaker
Peri Gilpin was named after this film.
Winston Hibler's opening credit reads: "Produced and narrated by Winston Hibler." The opening credits contain the statement: "With the cooperation of U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Fish and Game Department." The film begins with the following written statement, read aloud by Hibler: "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the Heaven... Ecclesiastes III." Walt Disney described the narration, written by Hibler and co-director Ralph Wright and often containing rhymes, as "lyric prose."
Perri is introduced in the opening onscreen credits as a "True-Life Fantasy," to differentiate it from Disney's "True-Life Adventure" series of nature documentaries. In Perri, documentary footage is edited into a narrative story, based on Felix Salten's novel Die jogend des eichornchens Perri (published in English as Perri) and supplemented with animated sequences. One sequence, referred to in contemporary sources as the "snow ballet," mixes photographic footage with animated images of forest animals and snowflakes. The narration makes the fictionalized aspect of the story explicit by referring to the action as a "play," with a theme and a setting. The viewed print was missing several feet at the end.
According to a February 1957 New York Times article, Disney purchased the film rights to Perri in 1933, at the same time he purchased the rights to Salten's Bambi. The following information about the production was obtained from studio press materials: The film was shot over a three-year period in Utah's Uintah National Forest of Utah and in the forests of Wyoming. At the film sites, the naturalist photographers first hoisted cameras as high as fifty feet into the treetops, then contended with poor weather, a flash fire and mischievous wild animals. National park rangers visited the camp occasionally and helped the photographers procure over 300,000 feet of 16mm film, which was then edited into 8,000 feet and transferred to 35mm. Perri marked the first onscreen credit for Roy Edward Disney, Walt Disney's nephew. In 1967 Roy Disney was elected to the Board of Directors of the Disney company, and in 1984 he became head of the animation department. Hollywood Reporter reported on June 30, 1957 that the film would premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. Paul Smith's score was nominated for an Academy Award.
Released in United States Fall November 1957
Released in United States Fall November 1957