White Wilderness (film)
|Directed by||James Algar|
|Produced by||Ben Sharpsteen|
|Narrated by||Winston Hibler|
|Editing by||Norman R. Palmer|
|Studio||Walt Disney Productions|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
|Release dates||August 12, 1958|
|Running time||72 minutes|
|Box office||$1.8 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)|
White Wilderness contains a scene that supposedly depicts a mass lemming migration, and ends with the lemmings leaping into the Arctic Ocean. There have been some reports that the Disney film describes this as an actual suicidal action by the lemmings, but the narrator in the film states that the lemmings are likely not attempting suicide, but rather are migrating and upon encountering water, attempt to cross it. If the water they attempt to cross is too wide, they suffer exhaustion and drown.
In 1982, the CBC Television news magazine program The Fifth Estate broadcast a documentary about animal cruelty in Hollywood, focusing on White Wilderness as well as the television program Wild Kingdom. Bob McKeown, the host of the CBC program, found that the lemming scene was filmed at the Bow River near downtown Calgary and not at the Arctic Ocean as implied by the film. He found out that the lemmings did not voluntarily jump into the river but were pushed in by a rotating platform installed by the film crew. He also interviewed a lemming expert who claimed that the particular species of lemming shown in the film is not known to migrate, much less commit mass suicide. He also discovered that footage of a polar bear cub falling down an Arctic ice slope was really filmed in a Calgary film studio.
It remains unclear if Walt Disney was notified or approved of the lemming incident.
Marlin Perkins was indirectly accused of being involved in similar controversies, and took umbrage, striking CBC journalist Bob McKeown who challenged Perkins in an interview as to whether he had ever done something of that sort. Perkins, then in his seventies, "firmly asked for the camera to be turned off, then punched a shocked McKeown in the face." 
In popular culture
The film also inspired the theme of the video game Lemmings.
The Blink-182 song entitled "Lemmings", from their 1997 album Dude Ranch, contains the line, "People are what they want to be/ They're not lemmings to the sea". This is an obvious reference to the myth as depicted in the documentary. The early Graham Parker signature tune "Don't Ask Me Questions" which hit the Top 40 in the UK. contains the line "Well I see the thousands screaming, rushing for the cliffs, just like lemmings into the sea."
- "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, January 6, 1960 p 34
- "NY Times: White Wilderness". NY Times. Retrieved November 8, 2008.
- Cruelty to Animals in the Entertainment Business, CBC News
- "Snopes.com suicides". Retrieved July 12, 2009.
- "The Fifth Estate: "How We Work"". CBC.[dead link]
- Andrew Rice campaign website
- Dead Kennedys official website
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Official website
- White Wilderness at the Internet Movie Database
- White Wilderness on YouTube
- "Lemmings" political ad on YouTube