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25 great films to teach kids about the environment

Why not start conversations with children about our relationship with nature through film?
Here's a list of 25 kid-friendly films about climate change.

Climate change and environmental disasters are tough subjects to broach with children. But they have become unavoidable topics as we continue facing environmental crises every day, and headlines swarm our newsfeeds warning of global warming's impact.

However, there is a way to start conversations with children about our relationship with nature, hopefully leading to questions about human influence, delicate ecosystems needing protection, and climate change, all with deserved and informed hopefulness.

Stacker took a look at kid-friendly films that educate children on the environment and spotlighted 25.

The films range from animated musicals to live-action documentaries and are entertaining for all ages. Films are listed in order of IMDb user rating, with the last film being the highest. Metascore is provided for critical context.

To qualify, the movie had to have messaging about the environment or insight into different ecosystems, species, natural processes, contemporary environmental issues, and the like.

Hoot (2006)

- Director: Wil Shriner
- IMDb user rating: 5.5
- Metascore: 46
- Runtime: 91 minutes

"Hoot" tells the story of Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman), who moves from Montana to Florida and initiates an effort to protect an endangered species of owls. The film is based on a novel by Carl Hiaasen and has fun, family-friendly music by Jimmy Buffett. "Hoot" is an age-appropriate introduction to the importance of preserving animal habitats.

Shark Tale (2004)

- Directors: Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman
- IMDb user rating: 6.0
- Metascore: 48
- Runtime: 90 minutes

An animated film with an all-star voice cast, including Will Smith and Robert De Niro, "Shark Tale" is set in the ocean with biologically diverse sea creatures as the leading characters. The plot centers around a world of gangsters and gambling—not exactly what you might expect from a children's film—but it is still able to convey an important message of self-acceptance. Its colorful cast, led by Oscar (Smith), a bluestreak cleaner wrasse, and beautiful underwater animation also spark interest in the sea.

Happy Feet (2006)

- Directors: George Miller, Warren Coleman, Judy Morris
- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Metascore: 77
- Runtime: 108 minutes

Another animated film, this time set in the harsh environment of Antarctica and starring a cast of penguins, "Happy Feet" follows the story of Mumble, an emperor penguin who can't sing like the rest of his species but finds his talent in dancing instead. Watching the world of "Happy Feet" is a great way to educate little ones on the Antarctic ecosystem and human impact there. Animals are trapped in plastic rings, Mumble temporarily winds up at a Florida zoo, and, in the end, the penguins are able to prompt human researchers to influence a debate that ends overfishing in their habitat. All of this is seamlessly told via singing and dancing penguins.

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)

- Director: Bill Kroyer
- IMDb user rating: 6.5
- Metascore: 67
- Runtime: 76 minutes

"FernGully: The Last Rainforest" is an animated musical film starring a group of fairies that live in an Australian rainforest. The magical creatures—and one human logger accidentally shrunk to the size of a fairy—are compelled to protect their home from other loggers and a polluting evil known as Hexxus. The family-friendly film teaches children the importance of rainforest preservation and respecting nature.

Over the Hedge (2006)

- Directors: Tim Johnson, Karey Kirkpatrick
- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Metascore: 67
- Runtime: 83 minutes

Based on a comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, "Over the Hedge" deals with themes of human impact on natural habitats. While a raccoon gathers a group of forest inhabitants to help him repay some food he stole from a bear, the creatures realize that a housing development has taken over their forest habitat while hibernating.

Pocahontas (1995)

- Directors: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Metascore: 58
- Runtime: 81 minutes

Though culturally debated, the film "Pocahontas" does hold a powerful message for children on the importance of valuing nature. While the Native Americans, including Pocahontas, respect and live parallel to their natural environment, the British colonizers, including Pocahontas' love interest, John Smith, seem only to want to take and destroy. Environmental greed plays a big role in the otherwise historically not-so-accurate film.

Fly Away Home (1996)

- Director: Carroll Ballard
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Metascore: 77
- Runtime: 107 minutes

The live-action film, "Fly Away Home," provides a good lesson in how humankind and technology can actually be helpful to the animal population. When a young girl (Anna Paquin), newly transplanted in Canada, finds a flock of orphaned goose eggs, she incubates and raises them on her own. When she learns that they have imprinted on her and must learn their migratory route from her, she and her father (Jeff Daniels) lead the geese to North Carolina via a homemade aircraft.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

- Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Metascore: 52
- Runtime: 95 minutes

An animated film in the Disney canon, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" follows the journey of Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox) and his fellow explorers as they stumble upon the lost city of Atlantis and are introduced to the Atlantean culture and ecosystem. Milo learns that a large crystal gives the Atlanteans longevity and powers their machines, but some explorers want to use the crystal for their own gain. Though completely fictional, the film warns against this kind of exploitation of natural elements.

Madagascar (2005)

- Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Metascore: 57
- Runtime: 86 minutes

In "Madagascar," a group of New York City zoo animals wind up in the jungles of Madagascar and must adapt to life in the wild. The movie provokes questions about animals in captivity versus the wild with a lighthearted and amusing tone. "Madagascar" also spawned two sequels, a spinoff film and a series featuring the penguins in the movie.

Pom Poko (1994)

- Director: Isao Takahata
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 77
- Runtime: 119 minutes

Animated by Studio Ghibli, "Pom Poko" follows a group of magical raccoon dogs who fight to protect their forest home from the threat of urban development. The creatures, called tanuki, come from Japanese folklore and are mischievous and fun-loving. The English dubbed version stars Jonathan Taylor Thomas, which may interest some millennial parents.

The Land Before Time (1988)

- Director: Don Bluth
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 66
- Runtime: 69 minutes

Produced by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, "The Land Before Time" stars a cast of young dinosaurs on the quest to find a place called the "Great Valley." The dinosaurs journey through harsh conditions and endure intense survival efforts, which can help educate viewers about the history of the earth's environment and introduce the concept of climate change. This film is the first in a series of 14 total "Land Before Time" films.

Luca (2021)

- Director: Enrico Casarosa
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 71
- Runtime: 95 minutes

Luca befriends an orphaned Alberto in 1959 Italy. Together, the two sea monsters pass off as humans on dry land and go on adventures until Luca's antics are discovered by his parents, who try to send him away to a distant relative. Luca runs away to dry land with Alberto. After going to lengths to hide their sea monster side, Luca and Alberto reveal who they really are and are welcomed and embraced by the humans. This film will have kids asking to spend time by the sea exploring the creatures within.

The Red Turtle (2016)

- Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 80 minutes

Co-produced by Studio Ghibli, the complex storyline of "The Red Turtle" might be best for older children or teenagers. The plot follows a man stranded on a deserted island and falls in love with a woman who was once a red turtle. They have a son who becomes a natural swimmer and eventually returns to the sea, as does the woman after her human love passes on. The film is visually and thematically inspired by the beauty of the natural world.

March of the Penguins (2005)

- Director: Luc Jacquet
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: 79
- Runtime: 80 minutes

"March of the Penguins" won Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards in 2006 and continues to capture the hearts and attention of audiences both young and old. The documentary follows the very real narrative of the emperor penguin's fight for survival, from mating to breeding to rearing young chicks. The film pulls at heartstrings while educating viewers about the ingenuity of natural instincts.

Ice Age (2002)

- Directors: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: 61
- Runtime: 81 minutes

Like "The Land Before Time," "Ice Age" is a kid-friendly way to learn about the history of the natural world. Set prehistorically, the film follows a misfit group of prehistoric animals as they migrate south to escape the onset of the ice age. The film spawned several sequels, all dealing with ideas of extinction, global warming, and other natural occurrences.

Ponyo (2008)

- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 101 minutes

Animated by Studio Ghibli and from the same writer and director as award-winning films like "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle," "Ponyo" follows a magical goldfish who longs to become a human like the boy who rescued her, Sōsuke. However, as Ponyo transitions to being human, the natural world falls out of balance—a tsunami destroys the land, and satellites begin to fall from the sky. The balance is restored after Sōsuke passes a test agreeing to love Ponyo no matter what, and Ponyo gives up her magical powers to remain a human.

Moana (2016)

- Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, Chris Williams
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 107 minutes

A Disney animated film set on a Polynesian island, "Moana" follows the titular character as she is chosen by the ocean to return the lost heart of the goddess, Te Fiti. With a fun cast of characters joining her, Moana's story is another that focuses on the relationship humans have with the natural world. The film also features a catchy soundtrack by Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa'i, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Jane (2017)

- Director: Brett Morgen
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 90 minutes

"Jane" is a documentary film that tells the story of the life and work of Jane Goodall. The film's footage shows Goodall's groundbreaking work studying chimpanzees: the observations and discoveries of how the chimpanzees socially and biologically function and their similarities to humans. The film is a perfect introduction to Goodall's lifelong work.

The Lorax (1972)

- Director: Hawley Pratt
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 25 minutes

"The Lorax" is based on the book of the same name by Dr. Seuss. A musical, animated film, "The Lorax" tells of a boy who lives in a land with no trees and learns the story of the titular grumpy creature who once tried to protect the Truffula trees before an evil corporation destroyed them. The boy is then given the last Truffula tree seed to plant and return the world to its former glory.

Castle in the Sky (1986)

- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 125 minutes

Another Studio Ghibli-Miyazaki collaboration, "Castle in the Sky" is set in a steampunk version of the 19th century. The film follows a boy and girl as they search for a fictional floating castle where nature thrives while attempting to protect a powerful crystal from getting into the destructive hands of the army. The film thematically wrestles with how humans can use technology for good or evil and how that choice can affect the world.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 117 minutes

A classic in the Miyazaki collection, "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" is based on his 1982 manga and is set in a post-apocalyptic world. While her planet is dying, Princess Nausicaä leads an effort to end a war that might completely destroy the world and its inhabitants. Nausicaä is an empathetic pacifist who discovers the secret to reclaiming the earth as it was before its decay.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 86 minutes

Hayao Miyazaki continues to be inspired by the natural world with his film "My Neighbor Totoro." The movie follows two girls who move to a new home and find a magical world of creatures and spirits in the surrounding forest. The film celebrates the joy and magic of nature—the growing, living things that are part and parcel of the human world.

Finding Nemo (2003)

- Directors: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 100 minutes

"Finding Nemo," a Pixar film, follows a father clown fish who leaves his reef to search the vast ocean to find his lost son Nemo. The film is heavily researched and is just as educational about the ocean as it is entertaining. Young viewers will learn about different sea environments, how sea turtles migrate, and how humans can negatively and positively affect the ocean.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 134 minutes

The final Hayao Miyazaki film on this list, "Princess Mononoke" is another of his films centered on environmentalist themes. Set in the Muromachi period of Japan, the film follows Ashitaka, a prince, who is on a quest to cure a curse when he winds up in the middle of a war between the forest gods and a mining colony. The film explores the idea that it is possible to balance humanity with nature.

WALL·E (2008)

- Director: Andrew Stanton
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 98 minutes

A Disney Pixar film, "WALL·E" is a computer-animated film set in a future where Earth is nothing but a landfill and a big corporation has evacuated all humans into space. A small trash compacting robot, WALL·E, and a newer model of robot, EVE, find a small plant on Earth and begin an adventure to save the plant and humans from an evil robot that is out to stop them. In the end, humans learn to work with robots to restore the planet.