( Reuters ) - Bambi will soon have lots of new friends at the Walt Disney Co.
The entertainment giant on Monday announced the launch of a new film label, Disneynature, dedicated to producing wildlife and environmental documentaries for the big screen, starting with a 2009 U.S. release titled "Earth."
The new venture marks one of the most conspicuous moves by a major Hollywood studio to capitalize on growing public fondness for all things green since the 2006 success of Al Gore's global warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."
"Our goal is to bring event films, as only nature can tell, to audiences around the world and for generations to come," Dick Cook, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, said in unveiling the production banner on the Disney lot in Burbank, California.
Cook said he expected Disneynature to produce roughly one film for commercial release each year.
The new label will be run by Jean-Francois Camilleri, a veteran France-based Disney executive who co-produced the surprise 2005 hit "March of the Penguins," which won the Oscar for best documentary the year before "Inconvenient Truth" did.
The first U.S. release from the new venture, slated to debut on Earth Day, April 22, 2009, is titled "Earth," adapted from popular BBC television series "Planet Earth."
Narrated by actor James Earl Jones, it will explore animal migration patterns, focusing on the journeys of polar bears, elephants and humpback whales over the course of a single year.
Shot over 2,000 days in more than 200 locations spanning every continent, it marks an unprecedented achievement in nature movies, said its British producer-director, Alastair Fothergill, whose credits include acclaimed marine documentary series "The Blue Planet."
"Nobody has spent so much time, ever, making a wildlife film," he said, adding that he has long felt confined by the medium of TV as a nature documentarian. "Cinema is the place that does justice to the natural world."
Besides aerial and underwater photography, "Earth" features intimate glimpses of wildlife made possible by new technology that allows helicopter-mounted cameras to capture close-ups of animals from a greater distance than ever before.
Similarly "The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos," scheduled to open in France in December 2008, will take viewers to the remote shores of a Tanzanian lake where fewer humans have ventured than have set foot on the moon, the filmmakers said.
Other films in the Disneynature development slate include "Chimpanzee" and "Big Cats," both set in Africa and co-directed by Fothergill; the undersea exploration "Oceans," from French co-directors Jacques Perrin ("The Winged Migration") and Jacques Cluzaud; and a time-lapse spectacle of flowering plants, "Naked Beauty: A Love that Feeds the Earth."
Disney executives said the new label follows a progression in the company's history that began in 1942 with the release of its animated wildlife classic "Bambi" and continued with its "True-Life Adventures" documentary series from 1948-1960.