Jonathan Jones fuses the natural world with fantasy adventure in Tiny Creatures, a smartly illusory new Netflix series.
There’s a lot to be said for the high drama of the natural world, and the thing people always say about great nature documentaries is that they seem like they’ve been written and shot to mimic a blockbuster. Well, Tiny Creatures, a new eight-part series debuting on Netflix today, has been. And the results are quite remarkable.
The first episode, which opens with a kangaroo rat being sinisterly eyed by a diamondback rattlesnake, begins innocently enough; so innocently that you’d scarcely realize this was all planned and scripted if you didn’t already know. But that’s the point, in a way. The orchestration of Tiny Creatures isn’t intended to be distracting, but to italicize the script wild animals already live according to. Soon enough, that rattlesnake has gobbled the rat’s mother, leaving it alone in the Arizona desert under constant threat by hawks and venomous Gila monster lizards.
The eight episodes of Tiny Creatures are ordered according to location; a hamster in New York, an owl in Minnesota, a mouse in Texas, a squirrel in Louisiana, ravens and rats in the Florida Everglades, a duckling in Washington, and a skunk in New Hampshire, all make up the bite-sized cast of this clever hybrid from Emmy-winning British director Jonathan Jones, whose award-winning experience as cinematographer on David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II stand him in good stead for this project.
Jones wrote scripts for these dramatic scenarios and used teams of trainers and handlers to populate them with real creatures who behave just how they might in the wild. But the freedom of fiction allows their instinctive exploits to mimic more screen-ready adventures without too much embellishment; at times, Tiny Creatures feels more grounded and less fake than documentary features like Disneynature’s Elephant, which wanted to achieve the same effect in voiceover and editing. With the animals, backgrounds, and story arcs already prepared, Jones controls the narrative.
If you’re worried about the safety of the animals used in the production, then don’t be – by all accounts they were pampered more than human actors tend to be, and thanks to a lot of clever editing predators and prey could be safely filmed separately. It might seem like a cop-out, but none of the tension is lost; on the contrary, it’s so well put-together you can barely see the seams.
From the unusual perspective of scurrying rodents with big adventures in front of them, Tiny Creatures looks at the smallest among us from a whole new angle.