Tag Archives: Angry Birds

The feeling is mutual

Peter Gros of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom comes to Chandler this month

Wildlife advocate and educator Peter Gros says he has fond memories of watching the television show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” every Sunday afternoon as a child growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley. The feeling is mutual.

I often watched the show during weekends spent with my father at his Denver apartment — usually while he was cooking dinner or working nearby on fishing-related projects. Sitting still long enough to watch a TV program was never his style.

My dad grew up in South Dakota where duck and pheasant hunting was a popular pastime, but Gros grew up watching rather than hunting the wildlife around him. Seems his backyard, a playground or sorts, was a huge fenced perserve filled with thousands of trees and stocked with various types of wildlife.

Picture diverse conifers and desiduous trees dropping multicolored leaves. Then add in grouse, deer, owls, hawks and more. “It was the ’50s and ’60s,” says Gros, “and I always felt most comfortable and alive when I was in nature.”

Gros recalls “migrating West” during the ’70s to study wildlife husbandry at a place, now defunct, that embraced “the idea of bottle-raising animals and having them become imprinted on you.”

He worked during his 20s in “a pocket park” north of Santa Barbara, where 500 or so hand-raised animals roamed free. “We let them do natural behaviors,” says Gros, “and they’d get a food reward.” Gros’ duties also included giving environment-related lectures.

Gros later moved to Northern California and “helped develop Marine World/Africa USA” in Redwood City, where having “lots of space, waterways and islands” made it possible to turning animals loose.

They took tourists around in “large forty-man Colorado river rafts,” something Gros playfully describes as “caging the people.” Soon Gros got his “big break” — assisting with the largest litter of tigers ever born in captivity. There were seven of them. “We knew they’d only survive,” he recalls, “if we could rotate their nursing.”

“Someone took a picture” says Gros — and it got into some pretty big hands. Soon Johnny Carson called and invited him to “bring the pups” to appear on his show. “Jim Fowler was there,” recalls Gros, “and things went well.” A meeting with Fowler and Marlin Perkins soon followed. 

Perkins originally hosted “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” which debuted on NBC in 1963, but retired in 1985 for medical reasons. Fowler, a naturalist who had assisted Perkins with the show, got the hosting gig. Today Fowler and Gros co-host a revamped “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” on the Discovery Channel’s “Animal Planet.”

Gros also serves as a special ambassador for the show, traveling to share the Mutual of Omaha message that “there is a correlation between protecting the world’s natural resources and our business of protecting a family’s resources.”

He’s concerned that today’s youth are suffering a “nature deficit disorder,” but encouraged that parents are “starting to figure it out.” Technology, reflects Gros, disconnects us from nature. So does too much time spent indoors playing video games or just meandering through the mall.

“I want to promote an understanding of the natural world,” says Gros. “It’s healthy,” says Gros, “to set aside daily time to disconnect from technology and walk or hike.” We inspire our children, he says, when we allow them to “see life up close.”

Too little time with nature sometimes leads us to fear it, adds Gros. “Children need to learn about it,” he says, “so they feel comfortable with it.” Like most things in life, the less we know about wildlife, the more likely we are to fear it. He’s concerned that children hear too many stories about animals being dangerous, and too few about their contributions to the planet.

Gros wants children to “understand and respect” the animal kingdom, so they’re moved to act when things like dwindling species impact our ecosystem. It appears his own children, three grown sons, share his fervor. John is a diving instructor. Tom is working on a bioengineering degree in San Diego while twin Jesse helps people explore places like Nepal and Peru through Insight Adventures.

“Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Starring Peter Gros” comes to Chandler Center for the Arts Sun, Feb. 19 at 3pm — so those of us who grew up with the TV show can take our own children and/or grandchildren to experience a live performance featuring Gros and several of his animal friends. It’s being presented with Arizona’s own Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium.

Gros notes that “wildlife footage and bloopers” comprise about one-third of the show, while another third features hand-raised wildlife appearing on stage (and interaction with volunteers called onstage to assist him). The other third involves “positive stories about good things happening in the environment” like pockets of rainforests coming back to life.

Expect a few surprises, says Gros, because at least one creature will “fly over the audience and land on stage.” Sounds like even kids enamored with “Angry Birds” will find plenty to love.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about this and other performances coming to Chandler Center for the Arts, and here view to video of Gros in action.

Coming up: What’s new pussycat?

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“Winnie the Pooh” meets “Avenue Q”

A scene from Walt Disney Picture's Winnie the Pooh--which is full of playful letters and words

Lizabeth suggested at about 12:45pm Saturday afternoon that we hit a 1pm showing of Disney’s new “Winnie the Pooh” film, which gave us little time to transition from Eeyore to Tigger mode. But we made it, and enjoyed every second of nostalgia nirvana in the short 73 minute film.

“Winnie the Pooh” is a literature lover’s dream — filled with images of books, letters and punctuation marks that come alive (as muses, not monsters), and scenes of Pooh characters bouncing, stumbling and flying through the pages of a “Winnie the Pooh” storybook.

Tigger doesn’t text or tweet. Kanga and Roo get letters the old-fashioned way — in their mailbox. Friends work together to solve problems. They’re creative. They cheer each other on. And they accept one another, foibles and all. Pull out the Pooh books before heading to the theater — you’ll want to extend the movie magic with a few good reads when you get home.

Robert Lopez wrote music and lyrics for both Avenue Q and Winnie the Pooh

“Winnie the Pooh” is a lovely musical jaunt, full of classical music in various tempos and styles. The movie features an original score by Henry Jackman and original songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, a married couple with impressive joint and individual credits.

Lizabeth spotted Robert Lopez’s name in the credits — because she’s familiar with his work on “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q.” The couple share music and lyric credits for seven songs in the film. Anderson-Lopez voices Kanga and Playbill.com reports that Lopez makes the rumbling sound for Pooh’s tummy. It’s a gift, I suppose.

A careful review of the movie’s credits — which roll as some of the movie’s funniest antics unfold — reveals plenty of familiar names. There’s Zooey Deschanel, who contributes an original song and vocal performance for the film. And Craig Ferguson (the voice of Owl) of late-night fame.

Also actors who’ve voiced characters for Toy Story 3, Phineas & Ferb and SpongeBob SquarePants. Most endearing is the voice of Christopher Robin. It’s that of Jack Boulter, and it’s his first-ever voiceover role. I may have to enjoy the movie a second time just to relish all the voiceover talent — including narration by John Cleese, co-founder of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

A single line in the credits reads “Dan Read-In Memorium” — in honor of a longtime background and visual development artist for Disney Animation films who died in May of 2010 after battling melanoma. I read that donations to local SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) chapters were requested in lieu of flowers.

Film credits mention “caffeination by Carlos Benavides” and thank three museums, including Britain’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where film directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall studied original “Winnie the Pooh” illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. The original stuffed animals that inspired Milne’s stories for his son Christopher Robin Milne are housed at the New York Public Library.

Disney's Winnie the Pooh opens with pages from this 1961 book by A.A. Milne

Children and their grown-ups giggled throughout the film as Tigger pounced atop a downtrodden Eeyore, Owl recited his lengthy memoir, Roo braved the forrest in his tea cup helmet, Rabbit found comfort in a checklist and Pooh raced to escape angry bees. There were no angry birds back in author A.A. Milne’s day (1882-1956).

When characters ponder knotting a rope to rescue friends who’ve fallen into a pit, Eeyore suggest that “it’s all for naught.” Later he’s convinced that “we’re all gonna die.” Roo offers a deadpan “Send the pig” (Lizabeth’s favorite line) when scary noises loom, and Tigger spends a lot of time saying “it’s gonna be great.” Pooh dreams of honey, meeting frustrations with a simple “Oh, bother!”

Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” website offers a “100 Acre Wood Personality quiz” for those of you who’ve yet to identify with a particular character, and there are plenty of games, activities and facts for younger “Pooh” fans. As other folks flock to Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forrest, I’m perfectly content to linger in the 100 Acre Wood.

— Lynn

Note: Lizabeth found a cool “10 Questions” interview of Robert Lopez by Belinda Luscombe of TIME Magazine in which he talks about his “personal connection with Pooh.” Click here to watch the video from TIME.com.

Coming up: Pardon my Pygmalion