Babies uses no narrator, and while it doesn’t completely lack structure, the informative nature found in most documentaries is absent. We’re left with a visual guide only, and though the potential for a focus on the truly intriguing differences in culture exists, such examination only happens intermittently. Many humorous moments break up the monotony and it’s impossible to resist the charm of witnessing the babies’ first encounters with animals and their frustrations with confusing toys and even other infants. However, like viewing baby pictures for over an hour, not everyone will be able to maintain an interest.
Thomas Balmes’ documentary Babies chronicles four infants from around the world and captures their first breaths to their first steps while highlighting major experiences and offering a glimpse at the often drastic differences in cultures and methods of child-raising. Ponijao from Namibia, Bayar from Mongolia, Mari from Japan, and Hattie from the United States may appear worlds apart, yet their experiences are universal to the way of human life.
Who doesn’t like cute, cuddly little babies? Releasing on Mother’s Day weekend to get the most of the target audience, Babies is at least strategic in timing. But the structure and material in this poorly-paced documentary leaves a lot to be desired. With no narration, no subtitles and no guidance, we’re intended to be outside observers and are left to our own conclusions about how these newborns are raised; sadly, many will probably find themselves measuring the haves with the have-nots. Without much information, the film is literally just footage of babies being babies, with their diversification only offering implied commentary on the evolution of the sophistication in pediatric technology.
The most captivating contrasts are in sanitation and the way some of the children are bathed (tongue baths vs. spit baths vs. showering in the arms of the parent), in the way they receive haircuts (with shears or with a knife), the pets they interact with (farm animals, cats, dogs, or flies) and the toys they play with (books, Lego blocks, rocks, bones or even just their lips). But we’re never given information on their environments, their parents, their financial statuses, or their ages during specific moments. This makes it difficult to compare their advancements; just from watching their progress, we might assume that the Namibian infant actually grows up the fastest, despite having no modern conveniences. Regardless of whether or not we’re force-fed opinions on the children, the humorous situations involving roly-poly, fat-cheeked babies is oftentimes enough to distract us from the non-educational framework – at least for the first half-hour. After that, audiences may find themselves fidgeting at the frequency in which breastfeeding makes its way into the picture.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)