To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, here are my reviews and recommendations for the films included as part of the Earth Month collection on Disney+ and a few additional educational activities!
Set in Africa
My top pick is In the Footsteps of Elephant, which tells the story of making Elephant, the newest Disney Nature film.
This behind-the-scenes documentary highlights the funny, suspenseful and heartwarming moments that the filmmakers experienced following African elephants across the Okavango Delta of northern Botswana.
You’ll get to see the variety of camera technologies and techniques as well as the researchers who helped the film crew figure out where to find the elephants. One of the most magical moments (not included or mentioned in Elephant) was seeing large numbers of elephants cross roads along protected safety corridors.
If you’re missing the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the National Geographic film The Flood features many more animals in the same region as Elephant. You’ll get your fill of painted dogs, hippos, crocodiles, antelope and more.
For The Lion King fans, African Cats is a tear-jerker about a lion mom and a cheetah mom and how they protect their cubs. Tree Climbing Lions and Man Among Cheetahs are shorter films with more of a focus on the filmmakers’ journeys.
Great Disney Nature Options
Diving with Dolphins and Penguins: Life on the Edge are additional making-of Disney Nature documentaries that highlight the emotional and environmental challenges of sharing some of the most extreme regions of the planet.
You’ll enjoy Dolphin Reef if you love Finding Nemo because it features coral reefs, green sea turtles, and humpback whales in addition to dolphins. Disney Nature’s Oceans and National Geographic’s Giants of the Deep Blue and Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures are also available for more incredible underwater cinematography.
Disney Nature’s Penguins had a little too much fluffy narration and not enough explanation of natural behavior for my liking. To accompany it (for homeschooling parents or just curious readers), I suggest the Penguinology episode of Alie Ward’s podcast, Ologies.
Some of my favorite Disney Nature films are on creatures with a little less star power – insects and birds. Wings of Life taught me a lot about the role of butterflies and birds in pollination. The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos was fascinating for exhibiting flamingos’ lives in difficult yet stunning salt flats. Fans of Up and a Bug’s Life will also likely enjoy the National Geographic options Planet of the Birds, Winged Seduction: Birds of Paradise, and Great Migrations.
In anticipation of Jane Goodall: The Hope, a new film that will be released on Earth Day, you can watch Chimpanzee, Jane, or Monkey Kingdom. A few primates are also featured in Born in China if you were looking forward to the release of the live-action Mulan which won’t be released in theaters until July at the earliest.
More Niche Recommendations
If limited access to nearby parks has got you down, Disney+ also has several National Geographic films about America’s national parks. Perhaps one of the eight 45-minute long episodes on Yosemite, the Everglades, Yellowstone or a longer film on the Grand Canyon will feel like a breath of fresh air.
And if spring weather is still proving elusive where you are, there are several options with stunning snowscapes. Follow the journeys of arctic predators in Wild Russia, Kingdom of the White Wolf and Disney Nature’s Bears. Compare this last one with Brother Bear to appreciate Disney animators’ attention to detail when depicting animal behavior.
You can’t go wrong with watching WALL-E, Pocahontas, or Bambi either. These more fantastical tales are great ways to spark conversation with younger kids about the importance of conservation and sustainable living practices.
If you want to throw it back to the early days of Disney, watching the True Life Adventures like The Living Desert or Jungle Cat will be an eye-opening and educational contrast with the more recent Disney Nature films.
What are you going to watch first?
If you just can’t get enough of the amazing animals and exceptional environments of our planet, Disney and National Geographic have created additional activities to inspire kids and kids at heart to care for the earth.