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Stream It or Skip It?

Kangaroo Valley (Netflix) is a documentary film that transports us into the daily lives and activities of a kangaroo family, known as a mob, as its youngest, known as joeys, get out of their mothers’ pouches and put tentative claws and paws to Terra firma. The star power of one of Australia’s most recognizable and beloved animals is also matched in Kangaroo Valley with appearances by two of the country’s brightest exports, with Sarah Snook of Succession handling narration and Sia performing her song “We Can Do Anything” over the closing credits. So, can the young joey Mala get her hopping legs beneath her and enjoy the world beyond her mother’s pouch? Let’s find out. 

The Gist: Hidden among the high peaks of the Australian Alps is a lush, secluded valley that’s offered animal life an oasis from the surrounding dust and desert for thousands of years. The close-up cameras and aerial shots, and timelapse footage of Kangaroo Valley are deployed in Canberra’s Namadgi National Park to capture the bustle of activity as flying squirrels, koala bears, crested cockatoos, stubby wombats, wedge-tailed eagles with their seven-foot wingspan, and even the tiniest quolls all make their way through this profound slice of the natural world. And it’s also where baby roo Mala lingers in the warm marsupium of her mother Lowanna. She’s still getting acclimated to the sights, sounds, and threats of her home, a valley where over 2,000 kangaroos live, but only one in five make it to their first birthday. 

Mala’s peers in the mob include hop-happy young male Buru, who wants to impress the other males, especially King Bamir, the largest buck and Mala’s father. Miro, meanwhile, is Mala’s pup counterpart in the nearby dingo pack, which regularly engages with the kangaroos in search of a tasty marsupial meal. Cameras capture the dingoes as pack boss Migaloo leads his charges down the wildfire-scarred ridge that encircles the valley, and detailed aerial work reveals the tactical scope of the resulting chase and battle, where kangaroos turn on their afterburners to outhop the wild dogs. It’s something the adults are trained for. But if Mala’s going to survive her first year, she has a lot to learn.   

Cool air is trapped in the valley by the surrounding mountains, and winter arrives. Lowanna has a new roo in her pouch, which leaves older sister short on mother’s milk at a time when the cold makes food scarce. And as a dingo carries off the limp body of a joey, we learn how hard it is out here for a marsupial just trying to make it to spring. Not only that, but climate change has made winter in the valley extremely unpredictable. The bright sun and scrumptious grass of the warmer seasons are a world away as Mala and her mob wait out the blizzard conditions in Kangaroo Valley.  

Photo: Netflix

What Movies Will It Remind You Of? Netflix’s Surviving Paradise: A Family Tale travels to Africa’s Kalahari Desert to observe how prides, packs, and herds survive harsh conditions. (Keeping it in the streamer’s universe, Surviving Paradise features narration from Bridgerton star Regé-Jean Page.) And Kangaroo Valley director Kylie Stott is a veteran of David Attenborough nature productions like The Great Barrier Reef.

Performance Worth Watching: Warrin the Wombat, “the neighborhood grouch,” lives alone in a subterranean lair that the kangaroos try their best to leave undisturbed. Their doddering fellow marsupial is fiercely proud of his turf, and he’ll protect it to the end, as a wombat interloper learns when he forages into range for some grass. “Gah!” (Whenever Warrin appears, Sarah Snook’s narration takes on the intonation of a children’s book.) “It’s an outrage!” And the toothy wombat hisses and chortles his opponent away from his carefully-dug home.

Memorable Dialogue: The chase is on as the dingoes rush behind a hopping kangaroo through a stretch of tall meadow and wildflowers. “Miro is still new to this game,” Sarah Snook tells us of the young wild dog with the black coat. “He’s learning adult kangaroos can outrun and outmaneuver a dingo.” And as his quarry hops away on two-foot strides, Snook offers a ruling on Miro’s technique. “What he should be looking for is something slower and more vulnerable.” You know, like a joey. Hold onto that pouch life for as long as you can, baby roos! 

Sex and Skin: Nothing here beyond the snorts, grunts, and presumptuous horn-dogging of the roo mob’s males whenever females are in season.

Our Take: This doc isn’t about that death blow. Some films in this vein aim to capture all of the action on the ground, from stalk and pursuit to attack and aftermath. But Kangaroo Valley keeps its distance from the facts of life in the wild. When tall and muscular King Bamir of Mala’s family mob stands his ground against attacking dingoes and is ultimately surrounded, the bloody business of a takedown is obscured by topography, and is instead experienced through the wary looks of Mala and her fam, who have suddenly lost their king. And later, as winter closes in and hunger is everyone’s prime mover, a matchup that pits Mala against the eager young dingo Miro becomes an example of how learned behavior, innate genetic knowledge, and pure instinct can overcome predation and inspire an animal’s will to live. 

Our Call: Stream It, especially if you have little ones and are looking to entertain or occupy them with some safe-for-viewing alternate hemisphere programming that has nothing to do with Christmas. Kangaroo Valley is crisply shot, warmly told, and features a marsupial pouch full of interesting facts.

Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges

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