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By Phil Hall | April 4, 2001

There’s nothing like a well-made nature documentary…and Tom Naygrow’s “The Elusive Pygmy Hippopotamus” is absolutely nothing like a well-made nature documentary. Whereas real filmmakers travel to distant lands to film wildlife in their natural habitat, Naygrow took his video camera to a zoo and filmed a couple of hippos walking around their enclosure. If this sounds lame, try watching it.
“The Elusive Pygmy Hippopotamus” begins with the most outlandish set-up imaginable. A whiny off-screen teenager (the director’s daughter, Tara Naygrow) is complaining that she can’t finish a term paper on the pygmy hippopotamus because her dad needs her help in mowing the lawn. Dad needs more than help…his creaky hand-pushed lawnmower looks like it was swiped from a Smithsonian warehouse and the overgrown lawn was probably last cut when Ike was in the White House. A cell phone call takes Dad’s attention away, so little whiny-poo girl decides to lay down in the grass and dream about the pygmy hippo. What???
We then cut to a zoo where Mama Pygmy Hippo, Papa Pygmy Hippo and Baby Pygmy Hippo live. If you are expecting the balletic hippos of “Fantasia” or even the slapsticky Peter Potamus, forget it…these hippos act like real hippos, which is to say they are a dull bunch. The hippo is a beautiful species, but in terms of cinematic entertainment they provide next to nothing for a hard-to-please audience. Even the hippos seem bored with each other…Papa Hippo keeps a conspicuous distance from his mate. When this becomes too numbing, we are treated with a compare-contrast sequence that pits the wee pygmy hippo against the big ol’ Nile Hippo…who is even less interesting than his smaller cousins, despite his comic girth and oversized yawn. There is also a brief digression to consider ants, for some reason (perhaps to wake up the audience).
Speaking of waking up, the nightmare ends when grass cutting Dad (remember him?) sticks his big smiling puss into the camera to wake up his daughter. We never do find out whether she finishes mowing the lawn or writing her term paper.
“The Elusive Pygmy Hippopotamus” features some pretty bad hand-held camerawork (you know it is hand-held when the cameraman twice shakes the camera accidentally) and a tinkly silent movie-style piano score that seems more appropriate for watching Buster Keaton fall on his a*s than watching a hippo eat a ball of lettuce or wade into a pond. Tara Naygrow’s narration sounds like it is being lifted from an encyclopedia and the poor girl has a voice which either inspires homicide or the stuffing of cotton into your ears, depending on your personality.
If a less competent nature documentary exists, Heaven help us. “The Elusive Pygmy Hippopotamus” not only scrapes the barrel, it drills a hole through the bottom of the barrel and deep into the muck below. And the ultimate insult: it is being released on home video courtesy of Artistic License Inc. Will someone please pass the gin bottle and a very tall glass?

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