Finding a movie that the whole family enjoys can be challenging, but choosing a film that also has an eco-friendly message can be easier than you might think. We scoured our own DVD libraries for green movies that gently support eco-friendly living and are also interesting and entertaining (since your six year-old is unlikely to want to sit through An Inconvenient Truth). We came up with documentaries, animated films, even an Oscar-winning flick that features talking animals. With lessons including living in harmony with other creatures, looking more closely at our food sources, and imagining a world without trees, these movies will get your whole crew discussing the big and small steps you all can take toward becoming a greener family. Be sure to add any of your family's favorites in the comments section. Here are 6 movies that make screen time into a time for family and learning about the environment.
Babe was the first movie my son ever watched, and it’s still a family favorite. The film depicts life on a farm, mainly from the point of view of animals. The titular character is a lovable pig who becomes a “sheep pig”, helping the farmer round up his flock. There are some events that might be upsetting to small children (such as the initial scene when Babe is separated from his mother and when the sheep are attacked by wild dogs), but overall it is a sweet, humorous, feel-good movie. Kids are often more in tune with animals and their feelings than adults, and Babe offers an imaginative and sensitive way to get them thinking about how the animals we eat can be as loving as those we typically consider as pets. Fun fact: James Cromwell, who plays Farmer Hogget in the film actually became a vegetarian and an animal activist as a result of his experience. Ages 3 and up.
Oceans, Blue Planet, Planet Earth: these documentaries are the crown jewels of the BBC’s gorgeous efforts to document wildlife and nature in all its amazing splendor. A children’s version Earth, produced by DisneyNature packs the lengthy series Planet Earth into 90 minutes. The footage is the same as the BBC version, so kids are just getting a condensed version with some of the more violent or disturbing scenes abbreviated or removed completely. The film is narrated by James Earl Jones, whose charismatic voice is soothing and lends weight to the truly serious cause of preserving our earth and its creatures. A beautiful way for kids to experience far away places and animals and to underscore the urgency of our world’s environmental situation. Ages 5 and up.
3. FernGully: The Last Rain Forest
FernGully came out two decades ago, and it has a bit of that cheesy 90s feel to it, but my kids LOVED it. A logging company is systematically cutting down trees and is closing in on FernGully, the last rainforest and also the dwelling of forest fairies. A young fairy casts a spell on one of the company’s workers, Zak, which causes him to shrink and experience the world around him in a different way. Zak realizes the damage that he and the others are causing and understands that he must return to his world to teach the others how to live in harmony with nature. Most of the movie is pretty tame, but the climactic scene features a scary, ghost/ skeleton who feeds on environmental waste and greed, so I would recommend for ages 4 and up (possibly even older if you have a sensitive child).
4. The Lorax
Almost everyone has read (or should read!) The Lorax, a rhyming environmental tale from Dr.Seuss. This movie adaptation is as candy-colored as the Seussian original and effective in as a cautionary tale against greed and consumerism. A young man named Ted wants to grow a Truffala tree for a girl he has a crush on — a difficult undertaking in Thneedville where trees no longer exist and everything is artificial. Ted’s quest leads him to the Once-ler, who explains his own role in the destruction of the natural environment. Despite the warnings of the Lorax, a woodland creature, the Once-ler becomes greedy and sacrifices the trees and the world around him to make money. Ted’s determination to find and grow a tree is the last hope for the future of the people of Thneedville. For ages 4 or 5 and up.
5. Born to be Wild
Narrated by Morgan Freeman, Born to Be Wild is a great intro documentary for young kids. At only 40 minutes long, it’s also the perfect length for little ones who tend to get fidgety and parents who don’t want extensive screen time. The documentary focuses on elephants in Kenya and orangutans in Borneo, and their rescue and care by two determined women and the local staff who are responsible for the animals. The baby orangutans and elephants in the doc are too adorable, and the film gently touches on important issues such as poaching and rehabilitation of these animals so that they can return to the wild. Ages 3 and up.
Image © Aubin Pictures
6. What’s On Your Plate
Plenty of wonderful food documentaries have been produced in the past five to ten years, but few exist that are geared toward kids. In What’s On Your Plate, two young New Yorkers take viewers around their city while exploring food issues including school cafeteria food, healthy food deserts, CSAs, and personal health and nutrition. Along the way they speak with parents, legislators, farmers, food activists, and other people involved in making the food decisions that affect all of us. The movie moves pretty quickly from one scenario to another, so the pace will keep kids interested — but allows the film to touch on numerous issues. Compared to other food docs, this one is fairly light on statistics and hard facts, but that’s actually a plus for most young viewers. The two young women are engaging, inquisitive, and relatable — perfect guides for an intro to food discussions in your family. Ages 8 and up.
Lead image via Shutterstock