The True Life Adventures series is part of a grouping of features that Disney put out in the late 1940s/early 1950s that shows the problems the company had. A company that was once daring and put out features that challenged existing wisdom was now churning out product to fill space on distribution schedules. The original True Life Adventure, Seal Island, won an Oscar, and was somewhat compelling, but by the time we get to The Olympic Elk, the series has a formula and hesitates to deviate from it whatsoever.
The focus in The Olympic Elk is the Olympic peninsula in Washington, and showing the migration of the elk from the lowland valleys to the snow capped mountains. But it follows the same basic outline we have seen from the shorts so far: opening with an animated sequence showing the setting and place, then moving on to a focus on a particular group of animals before eventually settling into a story about one particular animal in that group. That’s not a criticism, as it’s a good way to expose the brilliant nature photography to the masses, but when you watch several of these shorts, it becomes very easy to discern director James Algar’s rhythms and go-to ideas.
The story of the elk migrating from the bottom of the mountains to the tops where they rest is actually an improvement over things like Nature’s Half Acre, where the story all took place over the course of seasons but with no movement. Tracking the movement of the elk up the mountain offers more of a kinetic nature to the short. As with all the nature films, though, the problem is the lack of a compelling plot or characters to keep the audience invested in what happens next.
There is a slight threat to the elk from a black bear looking to prey on them, but for the most part, the conflict the elk must overcome is the actual mountain in the way. The mountain, needless to say, makes a bit less compelling adversary than a villain like Chernabog or Malieficent. The good news is that Algar takes care to use the best shots, and showing the impact of the terrain on the elk and vice versa. It’s a nice snapshot of what these animals go through, all the way up through the fight over the females between two male bucks.
I’ve made no bones that the True Life Adventure series is not my thing. There just isn’t much in the series that appeals to my desire for strong plot and character development. That said, The Olympic Elk is probably the tightest of the shorts to date. We are quickly introduced to the elk, their migration pattern then follow it through to the end in a brisk 24 minutes. I wasn’t bored and didn’t find my attention drifting as much as it had with the other True Life Adventures. It’s a good entry in what I find to be a subpar series.