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THERE is nothing wholly original about the concept of Netflix’s latest nature documentary seriesAnimal. Dramatic hunt scenes? Check. Epic scenery? Check. Cute and cuddly animals? Check. It is all fairly standard fare.

Animal does stand out from the many other nature documentaries available, however, thanks to the breathtaking and unprecedented footage. The series was shot during the coronavirus pandemic, and local camera operators from the various countries were hired due to travel restrictions. A sense of local pride and intimacy seems to come through with the footage, and the character-led stories are so rich and emotional that it is hard not to get invested in the drama.

Each of the four episodes is narrated by a different celebrity. Actors Rashida Jones, Rebel Wilson, Bryan Cranston and Pedro Pascal each bring their own personality to the table as they voice clips of big cats, dogs, marsupials and octopuses.

In the opening episode, Jones reveals the surprisingly caring, collaborative and resilient side of big cats. It is an aspect of their behaviour that has rarely been shown in such detail, which makes the series opener feel fresh and revelatory. The footage is utterly gorgeous and intimate throughout, from showing leopards stealing food from bins outside homes in the streets of Mumbai, India, at night to a snow leopard trying to kill an ibex on the edge of a cliff in the Himalayas. I found myself wondering aloud how they filmed many of the scenes.

This is especially true of Animal’s dramatic action sequences, the detail of which means that the first episode may not be suitable for all ages. That isn’t to say that the scenes are explicitly gruesome or gory. They just don’t shy away from showing just how powerful and deadly the likes of lions, tigers, cheetahs and leopards are when they hunt and kill.

The second episode, narrated by Cranston, moves from cats to dogs, focusing on their sharp senses, athleticism and fierce determination. Exploring the lives of African wild dogs, red foxes, grey foxes and other canines, it doesn’t quite match up to the epic scope of its immediate predecessor. Even so, Cranston is a delightful guide, poetically leading us through dogs raising their young and scurrying for food in Botswana, Arizona, Canada and even on the suburban streets of Bristol in the UK.

Wilson narrates the third instalment, which was filmed in her native Australia and examines the lives of marsupials including kangaroos, Tasmanian devils and koalas. Wilson goes for a more comedic approach and, while the jokes don’t always land, it is a refreshing shift in tone.

Then, for the fourth episode, the enigmatic Pascal (best known for his portrayal of the title character in Star Wars series The Mandalorian) dives deep into the oceans to provide an eye-catching glimpse of the cephalopod family. It is a spectacular reminder that octopuses may be the closest thing we have to alien intelligence on Earth, which helps to make it the most colourful and audacious episode of the four, as well as the perfect way to bring the series to a close.

We won’t have too long to wait for further episodes, with more celebrity narrators and animals. Four more have been confirmed for 2022, with Andy Serkis, Anthony Mackie, David Harbour and Uzo Aduba focusing on bears, apes, dolphins and birds of prey.

Overall, Animal does little to break the mould of the traditional nature documentary, but when the sequences are so sumptuously shot and the stories so immersive, it doesn’t really matter.

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