'Animal,' streaming, Netflix

NEW YORK (CNS) -- A quartet of high-profile commentators, Bryan Cranston, Rebel Wilson, Rashida Jones and Pedro Pascal ("Game of Thrones"), lends luster to the docuseries "Animal."

But it's the varied species of wildlife the program showcases that turn out to be its main attraction.

Executive producers Tom Hugh-Jones and Martha Holmes bring their long experience making nature films to bear on the show, all four hourlong segments of which are streaming on Netflix. The result is engrossing and informative.

While free of anything objectionable, and thus suitable for teens as well as adults, "Animal" is rated TV-PG -- parental guidance suggested for a reason. It involves candid discussions of predatory behavior and mating habits that make it doubtful programming for younger kids.

Each episode in the series -- directed by Bill Markham, Anuschka Schofield and Adrian Seymour -- highlights a different category of creature: big cats, dogs, marsupials and octopuses. Outstanding research produces numerous salient and intriguing facts. We learn, for example, that, besides possessing eight arms, octopuses have three hearts.

A lion's night vision, the script informs us, is six times sharper than that of a human being. Dogs, we're told, first appeared in what is now the American Southwest 40 million years ago, while the diminutive sugar glider, a type of possum, can traverse half a football field in a single leap.

The filmmakers emphasize the resiliency, resourcefulness and determination that have proved crucial to the survival of these animals, and recount hopeful stories of adaptation such as that of the pumas who are currently thriving in the valleys of Chilean Patagonia. But they also make clear the grave and manifold threats posed by climate change.

Thus, in discussing the plight of snow leopards in the Himalayas, Jones observes that "the warming planet is forcing these cold-adapted animals further up into the mountains. The higher they go, the less space there is.

"As wilderness disappears, it brings big cats into conflict with humans," she continues. "They're hunted as trophies and for body parts."

To its creators' credit, though, the documentary conveys its cautionary messages without becoming preachy. Instead, it largely lets the images speak for themselves.

In fact, the astonishing immediacy of cinematographers Roger Horrocks and Jon Shaw's camera work puts viewers right into the midst of these animals' environments. The technical virtuosity of their underwater filming in the fourth installment is particularly dazzling.

By taking its audience to such wide-ranging locations as Botswana's Okavango Delta, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in India and Australia's island state of Tasmania, "Animal" will likely spark viewers' wanderlust. More importantly, it also may inspire in them a deepened appreciation for, and a heightened resolve to save, the rich array of life forms with which we share the planet.

- - -

Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.