Jeremy Renner will be heard narrating the new Nat Geo docu-series, “Incredible Animal Journeys,” starting Sunday. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
An arctic fox cub stands and looks directly at the camera. Photo by Mikael Härdby/National Geographic for Disney
A robber crab poses for the camera in “Incredible Animal Journeys.” Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Disney
NEW YORK, Nov. 19 (UPI) — Executive producers Sarah Gibbs and Mark Barlow say film and TV star Jeremy Renner’s narration of their new National Geographic migration-themed docu-series, Incredible Animal Journeys, was pitch-perfect because he saw his own struggles reflected in those of the wildlife.
Premiering Sunday on Disney+ and Hulu, the nature program is the first major project for the Hawkeye and Mayor of Kingstown actor since he sustained serious injuries in a snowplowing mishap in January and underwent months of surgeries and physical therapy.
“We wanted someone with gravitas, with a sense of life experience,” Gibbs told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
“Jeremy’s Hawkeye and a superhero, but he’s also made other amazing movies and he is also just an emotionally connected human being. We wanted him to connect to the stories and bring them to life,” Gibbs said.
Brownlow said Renner connected to animals who beat seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve their goals.
“His delivery was heartfelt because he had been on his own journey after the horrific injuries he sustained in the snowplowing accident at the beginning of the year,” Bromlow said.
“I think he could really relate to what these animals have to go through and their trials and tribulations. There were times where he was on the verge of tears and choking up. It was a very emotionally charged experience.”
Gibbs added: “There are moments of really high emotion in the series. We follow these characters. We are invested in them. We root for them.”
“Jeremy brought all of his experiences as an actor, but he also brought all of him, all of Jeremy. That’s what we wanted him to bring.”
Gibbs, Bromlow and their passionate, patient filmmaking team started this project about three years ago.
“We humans think we are the world’s greatest explorers, but we’re not. We’d be lost without a map. We couldn’t get to a grocery store. Actually, animals are the real heroes and make incredible journeys every single day all across the globe,” Gibbs said.
“Billions of animals make billions of journeys that we can’t even imagine — a tiny barn swallow the size of your hand traveling 6,000 miles from South Africa to the U.K. to reunite with her lifelong love, a humpback whale traveling 3,000 miles from Hawaii to Alaska to feed,” she added.
“They don’t have GPS or a phone. They are navigating by the sun, moon and stars.”
The main objective was to make viewers feel like they were along for the adventure and capture on film some world firsts — such as a humpback whale birth and killer whales using icebergs as scratching posts.
“it’s a real roller-coaster ride. There are some really strong episodes. It lands just before Thanksgiving, so it’s a really good family watch,” Gibbs said. “There’s a real range of stories, amazing footage and real emotion — what you expect from NatGeo and Disney+”
Bromlow called the breath of wild behaviors “unprecedented” for a natural history series.
“To capture a whale birth is the Holy Grail of underwater filmmaking. These guys did it,” he said.
“To capture the tragic story of a whale entangled in plastic dying and assisted by a fellow traveler and brought to the surface, with the sharks pushed away and helped to breathe; tiger fish jumping out of the water to grab a barn swallow out of the air — these moments are utterly extraordinary and revelatory.”
It’s not all life-or-death, high-stakes action, however.
“It’s got something for everyone. It has spectacle and drama, but also lots of comedy,” Barlow said.
“I can’t get over the Christmas Island crab. Although they are crabs, they can’t swim, but the mums are bound to the water to release their eggs, and she has got this extraordinary big journey of her own to get to the shore to spawn,” he added.
“Who’d have thought a little dung beetle on its journey across the African Plains to bury its ball of dung is so characterful? … For a family audience, I think this is going to be fantastic viewing.”
Gibbs said wildlife TV and film programming is critical, especially for young people, because it shows them how complicated, diverse and beautiful the planet is and, hopefully, encourages them to be good stewards of it.
“We don’t want people to be despondent,” she said of the challenges animals, plants and ecosystems face in the 21st century.
“We want people to see how magical and wonderful and amazing this world is and want to save it,” Gibbs said. “For me, there is a huge universality to animal stories. We can really relate to them.”
Barlow added, “If you see it, you begin to care about it.
“We share this planet with all of these wondrous creatures. Our health is inextricably bound with theirs. We’re in this together.”