Weekend Highlights

Published March 6, 2013
Going Places

Flight of the Butterflies Must-See 3D IMAX Film

by Taryn Zier
seattle child article photo
seattle child article photo

From the tranquil opening scene, which makes you feel as if you were a monarch butterfly fluttering into a forest glade, to the breathtaking show-stealer at the end, you just want to turn to your kids and say, “Isn’t life amazing?”

Flight of the Butterflies in 3D, now showing at Pacific Science Center’s Boeing IMAX Theater, is a remarkable documentary, perfect for kids with its awe-inspiring beauty and deft storytelling. In a mere 45 minutes, we witness all the stages of the monarch butterfly's amazing life, including the puzzling secrets of its migration.

The Flight of the Butterflies storyline includes four decades of work by Canadian scientist, Fred Urquhart. The adventure unfolds as a mystery, which works well for younger viewers. No one knows where the butterflies go when the weather gets colder. Urquhart's perseverance is admirable (a good thing to chat about with children), and it finally pays off with one of the greatest natural history discoveries of our time.

The film follows three generations of butterflies, from the time they are little eggs on milkweed leaves to the time they reach their intended destination. My family got into the story as it followed a certain butterfly, "Dana," her daughter and granddaughter. It's great to see nature in action.

And my oh my, butterflies are wonderful in 3D. The crew must have had some amazing equipment to shoot this film, as the tiniest of caterpillars and the most detailed of wings fill the six-story IMAX screen.

It is impressive to see the "very hungry caterpillars" eat their way out of house and home (did you know they get 2,000 times larger in just two weeks?), and the mind-blowing transformation from wiggly worm into beautiful butterfly. In the film we also learn about their high-flying migration tactics, some of which are computer generated, and the ubiquitous obstacles they face (predators, pesticides, climate change, habitat destruction). Sadly, less than 1 percent make it to adulthood. 

When at last Urquhart and his cohorts figure out the mystery, it is a moment that gets you to the core. The monarch butterfly’s winter nesting ground – a few high, forested peaks in central Mexico – is a fragile microclimate with the right amount of sun and moisture. In this sacred spot, the butterflies huddle together for warmth and protection until spring. Here is how Urquhart describes the moment in the August 1976 issue of National Geographic:

"I gazed in amazement at the sight. Butterflies – millions upon millions of monarch butterflies! They clung in tighty packed masses to every branch and trunk of the tall, gray-green oyamel trees. They swirled through the air like autumn leaves and carpeted the ground in their flaming myriads on this Mexican mountainside."

It is breathtaking.

At the start of the film we see Urquhart as a 10-year-old boy, fascinated by butterflies. I love that the story starts with a young boy’s dream, because it resonates with the kids in the audience. My 6-year-old daughter asked me that evening how old he was in that beginning shot, and I knew she was searching for a baseline for when she would start making important discoveries.

This G-rated film is fine for all ages. The children in the audience on our visit – big and little – were silent and engaged. My 8-year-old son, who feared that a movie about butterflies was going to be “girlie,” exclaimed afterward, “That wasn’t girlie at all!” He was pleased to tell me additional facts about butterflies, since the film reinforced some of what he has been learning in class.  

There are typical concessions at the IMAX theater, so your family can indulge in popcorn, soda and candy if you choose. There are some new interactive games in the space outside the theater, so add some extra time for exploration. My kids particularly enjoy the wind tunnel ($2) and the puzzles.

I wish we would have gone to visit the Tropical Butterfly House at Pacific Science Center after the film. I will never look at a monarch butterfly the same way again, and probably neither will my kids. If you have the time, make this part of your itinerary and see if you can spot the monarchs.  

I highly recommend you go see this show with your kids. Then, visit the Flight of the Butterflies website to find out how to plant your own butterfly garden. My family plans to do so this spring. Any movie that motivates you to action after it's over is a must-see in my book.

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If You Go...

Where: Pacific Science Center’s Boeing IMAX Theater, 200 2nd Ave. N., Seattle Center.

When: Daily showings, now through the summer.

Cost: $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 youth ages 6 to 15, $6 kids ages 3 to 5; free for kids younger than 3. Pacific Science Center exhibits cost extra.

Contact: 206-443-2001; www.pacificsciencecenter.org.