Barack Obama brings Netflix's new nature documentary 'Our Great National Parks' to life

The five-part series explores some of the most beautiful places on Earth

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Nature documentaries have become increasingly prevalent on streaming services over the past few years. Netflix alone has released Our Planet, Night On Earth, Tiny Creatures, Surviving Paradise and Animal, the second season of which was released last month.

The latest addition to Netflix’s collection of nature documentaries is Our Great National Parks. There’s one major aspect of this series that sets it apart from its rivals: the inclusion of the 44th President Of The United States, Barack Obama. Not only is he the narrator and presenter of all five episodes, his production company Higher Ground also oversaw its creation.

As you’d expect, Obama’s personality is at the heart of Our Great National Parks. But while that’s obviously a blessing, at times it also holds it back. Let’s start off with the positives, though.

Our Great National Parks is an endlessly fascinating and gorgeous exploration of some of the most beautiful and inspiring places on Earth.

Spanning five continents, it tells the story of the creatures that roam through places such as Kenya’s Tsavo National Park and Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park, while it also explores the waters of Monterey Bay, California, and the eclectic terrain of Chilean Patagonia, to name only a few of its settings.

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Obama wants viewers to gaze in wonder and appreciate the innate beauty that these wild spaces have to offer

Obama clearly has a vested interest and emotional connection to the preservation of national parks. When he was in the White House, he protected more public lands and waters than any other president in the history of the US.

Obama wants viewers to gaze in wonder and appreciate the innate beauty that these wild spaces have to offer. With the world getting hotter and more crowded, the animals that call these national parks home are increasingly endangered.

Unsurprisingly, considering its host, Our Great National Parks asks and then tries to answer big questions, such as: “Can protected places and millions of people coexist?” The series’ intent never gets in the way, though, and it is seamlessly integrated into the gorgeous footage.

This is where Our Great National Parks again differs from many other nature documentaries. While it’s always engrossing to watch, the sequences are actually quite serene and calm, as we get to see insects, birds, fish, reptiles and mammals living their everyday lives. Occasionally, there’s a death, but it’s never gratuitous. Or even that dramatic.

While that makes Our Great National Parks suitable for all ages, it does also make it much less gripping. Especially over the first three episodes.

At the same time, Obama’s narration never comes close to reaching the heights of Sir David Attenborough’s dulcet tones, which helped make the genre so popular.

A scene from 'Our Great National Parks'. Photo: Netflix

Thankfully, where Obama falters, Our Great National Parks’ footage thrives. That’s especially true of its fifth episode, which is set in Gunung Leuser, and provides an all-encompassing view of the park’s ecosystem. This includes intimate looks at tigers, forest elephants, orangutans and Sumatran rhinos, which are the smallest of the species. All of these animals used to live across South Asia, but owing to global warming and other human activities, Leuser is now the only place where they co-exist.

Such revelations mean that Our Great National Parks is always worthwhile, especially when coupled with Obama’s declaration that “we’re the first generation to feel global warming and the last that can do something about it”.

It’s just a shame that the delivery isn’t as powerful as the message.

'Our Great National Parks' is on Netflix on April 13

Updated: April 10, 2022, 8:12 AM
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