They Eat Wilderness Scouts, Don't They?

What Women Really Think
June 4 2009 1:10 PM

They Eat Wilderness Scouts, Don't They?

/blogs/xx_factor/2009/06/04/paradise_falls_the_lost_world_in_pixars_new_movie_up_is_based_off_a_real_place_in_venezuela_but_watch_out_for_kevin_the_bird/jcr:content/body/slate_image

[ Spoilers for Up ahead. ]

Advertisement

Seeking scientific accuracy in Hollywood is a fool's game. I've frothed at the terrible biology of Bee Movie and gnashed at the poor oceanography of Transformers and muttered at the unfortunate physics of Star Wars . So I wasn't expecting much from Pixar's latest offering, Up , what with the house floating along on helium balloons. But I was pleasantly surprised. The biology of Up is reasonably accurate-though Kevin the bird might harbor a dark secret.

In Up, our heroes float to Paradise Falls, in South America. This spectacular landscape of flat mesas and giant falls is based off Venezuela's Canaima National Park , home to Angel Falls, the world's tallest waterfall. The mesas, called tepui, are ancient rocks inhabited by unique plant communities found nowhere else. Since a barren tepui is a hard place to make a living, many of the plants have turned to meat- they capture insects with sticky bulbs or with water traps. According to Bay Area Science , these excellent plants do get little cameos throughout the movie, but the other inhabitants of Pixar's Paradise Falls are glimpsed only as skeletons on display.

But what about Kevin? Kevin is a large, colorful ostrich-like bird pursued by the bad guy because she's a living fossil that will prove that Paradise Falls is indeed a "Lost World." While there are flightless birds in South America today, they aren't colorful and they don't live on the tepui. The most Kevin-like is probably the rhea, a gentle ostrich-like herbivore that grows up to six feet tall and 70 pounds. Rhea roam the low-lying plains of Brazil and Argentina, but are kept as livestock and pets all over the world. Anything that wanders around a Scottish suburb is probably not exotic enough to drive the plot of an entire feature film. That's why I think Kevin may have been something far more mysterious and dangerous-an ancient terror bird.

The terror birds (also known as phorusrhacids ) were carnivorous flightless birds that ate their way through South America until their extinction 2.5 million years ago. The largest terror bird stood 10 feet tall, weighed 1,000 pounds, and used its giant razor-sharp claws to feed its babies meat, not chocolate. A self-respecting terror bird would have had no fear of talking dogs-it could have could have swallowed them whole and kung-fu-chopped their bones for the marrow. Discovering a living terror bird, though likely fatal, would certainly propel the discoverer to fame and fortune.

If Kevin was a terror bird, why would she spare the lives of Up 's heroes? Perhaps her species evolved to vegetarianism over the last 2.5 million years, turning to a life of pacificism and quiet contemplation. Maybe she was saving them in order to eat them later. Or maybe she was entirely satisfied with being fed chocolate. Nonetheless, if I were a Pixar character, I wouldn't turn my back on Kevin. They don't award the "fleeing from extinct mega-predator" Wilderness Scout badge posthumously.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Resigns

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 4:26 PM How to Measure the Value of Your Personal Data in Cookies: A Slate Guide
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.