Tiny World amazes with an Ant-Man view of nature [Apple TV+ review]

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Apple TV+ enters the world of nature docs with the charming 'Tiny World.'
Apple TV+ enters the world of nature docs with the charming Tiny World.
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+ invites you to take a look at the things beneath your feet in its new documentary series Tiny World. Narrated by Paul Rudd, this show is charming, if maybe too cute for its own good.

Tiny World, which premieres on October 2, is the first of three new docuseries coming to the streaming service this fall. It’s a shrewd and promising start, as Apple TV+ positions itself as a provider of episodic nonfiction content to match its high-profile dramas and films.

Tiny World review

It’s a little surprising it took almost a whole year before Apple TV+ followed up its initial forays into environmental documentary. The service launched with The Elephant Queen in November 2019, and Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth debuted in time for Earth Day 2020.

The funny thing about Apple TV+ as a brand is that it clearly must take some cues from intrepid forebears like Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. That naturally leads to shows about ingenuity, industry and creation, and so we get things like the sports-centered Greatness Code, architecture series Home and motorcycle road-trip documentary Long Way Up, all of which delve into the staggering things humans can do.

To temper that somewhat, Apple TV+ must offer shows about the beauty of nature. Otherwise, the lineup could come across as pure cult of personality. Tiny World takes this dictate very literally by showing the smallest organisms that can still be picked up by standard camera lenses.

It’s a hard world for little things

Tiny World takes six different kinds of environments (garden, island, desert, etc.) and shows the ways in which ecosystems of microscopic creatures thrive in the shadow of giant things. The first episode owes much (down to the compositions and editing) to the BBC series Hidden Kingdoms in its depiction of the world of the elephant shrew. However, the series recovers as its first six episodes play out, and Tiny World finds its own personality.

It helps having composer Benjamin Wallfisch handling some of the music, ensuring the show exhibits its own personality. His scoring of a slug mating ritual makes that scene one of the most eerily beautiful things ever shown on Apple TV+.

Rudd, who plays Ant-Man in Marvel’s superhero movies, has done a little narration in the past. But this is his first time on a show designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience. Frequently, he seems like he’s not sure about the best delivery of certain phrases, which speaks to the show’s identity crisis. Tiny World might be for kids, or it might be for adults looking to have something on in the background, but it never quite decides. You can feel him hitting the scatological notes a little hard to make sure kids know what’s going on.

Apple TV+ nature documentary mixes cute critters, harsh reality

It's all cute all the time in 'Tiny World,' the new Apple TV+ nature docuseries
It’s mostly all cute, all the time in Tiny World.
Photo: Apple TV+

Throughout its half-hour episodes, the show gets plenty of mileage from the sheer novelty of its tiny critters doing their stuff. For instance, a spider mating dance is played for comedy twice, as is a clever trick with the sound design around animals fighting, which doesn’t exactly show a surfeit of creativity.

However, Tiny World hits all the right notes in the season’s final episode, set in a garden. By contrasting the likes of hamsters and starlings with the humans tending the land, the episode handles the size element in a more clever and demonstrative fashion than in previous episodes. The show does the most with its premise here. And it benefits from the added bonus of not appearing to follow in the footsteps of other nature programs.

This is low-key excitement, filled with lots of cute animals and a fair amount of grotesque ones. Your kids might like it if they can handle the occasional moment of harsh reality. Like Old Yeller or Charlotte’s Web, Tiny World is not afraid to show exactly how cruel nature can be. If you’re cool with the occasional cute critter getting devoured by a hawk, this series should go down relatively easy.

Tiny World on Apple TV+

Rated: TV-G

Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required)

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.