Kid-Friendly Nature Films

May 30, 2009

We recently took our children to see a movie for the first time. My preschoolers think they're tough ninja fighters, but they also happen to be pretty sensitive to anything loud or scary or emotional. So we decided to wait until they are a bit older to visit the larger-than-life screen and surround sound of an actual movie theater. For their first movie we chose Earth, the nature documentary from Disney. They enjoyed it so much that I decided to come up with a list of nature documentaries that my boys -- and most young children -- would enjoy watching. These five family-friendly movies provide spectacular scenery, thrilling action, a mix of lighthearted and sobering scenes, and lots of educational messages:

1)  March of the Penguins

Who would have thought a nature documentary could have crossed over to mainstrem theaters and become a runaway hit?  Morgan Freeman narrates this real-life story about the Emperor Penguin’s journey to create and sustain new life. The cameras follow the arduous trek the penguins make to their breeding grounds each year (as far as 70 miles) in order to find a mate and create a child.  It's funny, sad, scary and touching, and has found a place in the hearts of children and families all over.

2)  Arctic Tale

What child doesn't love cute, cuddly, furry polar bears?  Nanu the polar bear cub, is as cuddly as they come.  Her co-star, Seela the walrus cub, while not as cuddly, certainly provides her share of cuteness and laughter.  Which is good, given the sobering underlying message.  This movie tells their stories, of how life in the Arctic has changed due to global climate change, and of how they are forced to adapt and sacrifice in order to survive.

3)  Earth

The first in Disney's new DisneyNature movie series, Earth follows several animal families -- polar bears, humpback whales and elephants -- and the other creatures they meet in their daily adventures, through the course of a year.   The scenery is breathtaking .  There are some scary animal attack scenes, but they stop just short of showing all the grisly bits, and there are enough cute and funny scenes (bellyflopping ducks, dancing monkeys) to make up for it.

4)  Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk
Young adventurers will enjoy the thrilling action sequences in this movie, shown in IMAX format.  This documentary follows the adventures of a team of explorers (two father-daughter pairs and a river guide) as they raft the Grand Canyon.  The underlying ecological messages might go over your kids' heads, but they can't miss the beautiful, soaring birds' eye views of the Grand Canyon.  And you can always use their memories of this movie to bring home the message of water conservation later. 

5)  Destiny in Space

An IMAX camera deployed via satellite provides rare views of the shuttle, in its entirety, orbiting 200 miles above Earth. Your little astronauts will feel like they're working alonside the grownups inside Spacelab and outside the shuttle in the hazardous vacuum of space, performing a spectacularly successful servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope.

These films do their best to de-emphasize the "scary" and highlight the "cute" and "interesting," but be sure to take into account your child's age and temperament.  At the end of the day, these are nature films, and the harsh realities of nature may still upset some children. If your child can handle it, these movies are a great way to show your children that, as wonderful as fantasy movies may be, Mother Earth provides more than enough dramatic stories and special effects to thrill and entertain any moviegoer.  And the environmental messages provide great basis for family discussion later on.  Happy viewing!


Bonggamom is the Silicon Valley City Editor for the Savvy Source. You can read more of her work every day at Being Savvy: Silicon Valley.

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