Science Museum of Minnesota reigns with monarch features

Science Museum of Minnesota reigns with monarch features

Last night, I wrote about how the Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement is both creepy and fun. This morning, I had a similar mix of feelings about an entirely different local experience: seeing Flight of the Butterflies and visiting the Butterfly House at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Monarchs are big, in a way that somehow wasn’t entirely clear to me even after I saw them inflated to 50 feet long on the giant Omnitheater screen. When the first butterfly landed on me afterwards in the Butterfly House, I was enchanted. A dozen monarchs later, I started to feel a little bit like Tippi Hedren might have if The Birds had been written by Nabokov.

This wasn’t The Birds, though—this was the butterflies. As a reviewer, I try to judge things on their own terms, and Flight of the Butterflies is a near-perfect example of its type: an hour-long educational Omnifilm where panoramas of natural wonder alternate with cheesy reenactments of scientific discovery.

The discovery, in this case, is that of the Mexican haven to which monarchs migrate in a multigenerational, cross-continental southern journey. Actors dramatize lepidopterists Fred Urquhart (1911-2001), Cathy Aguado (b. 1949), and their colleagues as they tag butterflies to track them to the wooded mountains where they make their winter home. The first butterfly to be conclusively proven to have migrated from the far north, we learn, was tagged in—heyo!—Minnesota.

If director Mike Slee gets a little misty-eyed over Urquhart et al, he’s fluid and fascinating in his exposition of the monarch migratory cycle. Assisted by effective digital animation and astonishing photography by Simon de Glanville (but then, that’s table ante for this kind of film), Slee tells the butterflies’ story with quick but pointed jabs at human offenses ranging from crop-dusting to global warming.

Certainly if you have kids in tow—and probably even if you don’t—you’ll be inclined to make your way straight from the Omnitheater to the Butterfly House, which is much quieter, more focused, more educational, and (for better or for worse) more intimate than the State Fair’s version. The house, built within the museum’s large rotating exhibit gallery and walled with translucent plastic, is almost an art installation: the most memorable moment, for me if not for my niece and nephew, was watching blurry butterflies flit silently around other visitors as we waited our turn to gain admittance through the airlock.

The whole butterfly experience is easy to recommend for—as they say—the whole family. Don’t take my word for it, though: my young niece and nephew gave the movie and the exhibit two antennae up.

Jay Gabler