It’s April, which means it’s time to start planning for another Earth Day celebration. Since 1970, the world has celebrated Earth Day on April 22. While there are many ways to celebrate the day, for several years one of the most popular celebrations has been heading to movie theaters to watch the latest Disneynature documentary.
Disneynature was founded in 2008 by a Franco-American film studio with the goal of creating engaging, family-friendly documentaries. This year, Disney is set to release Disneynature Polar Bears on Disney+, but for those looking to start the celebration early, there are a host of other Disneynature options to choose from.
ten Chimpanzee (2012) – 7.1
Disneynature Chimpanzee marked the sixth documentary when it was released in April 2012. The documentary followed Oscar, a toddler chimp who is left to fend for himself after his mother is caught in an attack by a rival chimp gang.
Oscar navigates the African forest alone until he is picked up by Freddy, one of the male chimpanzees in the group. It’s an odd couple that makes for a heartwarming and fascinating story. The documentary took four years to create and drew criticism upon its release. Two chimpanzees played the role of “Oscar” so that the team could obtain images of the youth of the “Oscars”.
9 Penguins (2019) – 7.1
March of the Penguins maybe a documentary that comes to mind in relation to penguins, but years later Disneynature released their own penguin documentary with far more heartwarming moments than despair.
Narrated by Ed Helms, the documentary follows Steve, an Adélie penguin, ready to start his life. Presented as a coming-of-age story, audiences watch Steve as he tries to find a life partner, build a nest, and start a family. Despite its engaging story and beautiful cinematography, the documentary underperformed at the box office, earning just $7.7 million.
8 Born in China (2016) – 7.2
Unlike some other Disneynature documentaries, Born in China focuses on 3 different animal species: a snow leopard, a golden snub-nosed monkey and two giant pandas. The documentary was produced in partnership with Shanghai Media Group.
In western China, audiences meet Dawa, a snow leopard, a mother struggling to provide for her young and fend off intruders. Elsewhere, the audience meets TaoTao, a young monkey, who struggles to find his place in his own family, even though he has a younger sister. And finally, audiences meet YaYa and her daughter MeiMei, a mother-daughter Panda duo navigating through life.
7 Elephant (2020) – 7.2
Released at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Disneynature’s the elephant was released straight to Disney+ in early April. It was the 15th documentary released by Disney and narrated by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
The documentary takes audiences to the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa where they meet Gala, the matriarch of the herd, her sister Shani and her nephew Jomo. As migration season approaches, Gala prepares her herd for the great trail through the desert in search of a grassy paradise.
6 Bear (2014) – 7.3
In 2014, Bear took audiences to the coastal mountain ranges of Alaska for an incredible documentary narrated by John C. Reilly, who, if you didn’t know, is a huge animal activist. The film did extremely well at the box office, grossing $21.3 million.
The documentary begins with Sky, an Alaskan brown bear, who has just given birth to two cubs, Scout and Amber. As the seasons change, the cubs grow as Sky tries to keep them safe by battling predators and the changing climate around her. Finally, summer arrives and Scout and Amber participate in the best part of being a bear – the salmon run.
5 Monkey Kingdom (2015) – 7.3
Narrated by one of the best SNL alumni, Tina Fey, monkey kingdom takes the audience to Dri Lanka and its jungles of Polonnaruwa. Released in 2015, it was the eighth documentary created by Disneynature.
The documentary follows Maya, a low-born toque macaque, who is owned by the troop’s Alpha male. One day, Maya crosses paths with Kumar who impregnates Maya before leaving. Now a single mother, Maya and her son Kip face hardships left and right as they struggle to stay alive in the ever-changing jungle.
4 Dolphin Reef (2018) – 7.4
dolphin reef was first released in France in 2018 but only debuted in the United States in 2020 when it premiered on Disney+, although it is slated for a theatrical premiere in 2018. Narrated by Natalie Portman, the documentary centers on Echo, a bottlenose dolphin.
Echo strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mr. Matnis, a peacock mantis shrimp, who has his own share of ongoing struggles. Meanwhile, Echo deals with traditional growing pains like being grounded after swimming too far from her pod.
3 African Cats (2011) – 7.5
African Cats was released in 2011 and has helped preserve 50,000 acres of land in Kenya’s Amboseli Wildlife Corridor. The documentary was filmed in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya and is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.
The documentary explores lions and cheetahs, introducing audiences to lion cub Mara and her mother Layla, and Sita, a cheetah raising five cubs. Both mothers fight off predators, hunt and try to teach their cubs how to be the best lions and cheetahs possible. In doing so, Layla and Sita become some of the best mothers in cinema.
2 Oceans (2009) – 7.7
oceans was first created by a French production company but was acquired by Disney for distribution in the United States. Now under the Disneynature banner, 20 minutes of footage had to be cut from the original oceans documentary for violent content.
The Disneynature documentary follows several different sea animals in the five oceans of the Earth. From marine iguanas and Galapagos crabs to sea otters and humpback whales in various oceans, oceans follows the most species of any Disneynature documentary.
1 Earth (2007) – 8.0
Earth was first created by French documentarians before being acquired by Disneynature for distribution in the United States. It is one of the first nature documentaries to be released under the Disneynature banner. It has since become the second highest-grossing nature documentary of all time.
The documentary explores everywhere from the North and South Poles throughout the year while following the journeys of polar bears, African bush elephants and humpback whales. In doing so, the documentary brings global warming to the forefront, warning its audience of its detrimental effects on the lives of these species.
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