Disney’s Earth Movie Is Breathtaking – but Misses an Opportunity to Educate



Disney doesn't often make a movie little kids shouldn't see. But "Earth," the nature film premiering on Earth Day April 22, falls into that category.

Despite its "G" rating, the film is more suspenseful than a James Bond movie — and more stressful, too. As it follows three animal families through a year of their life, tension reigns: will they live, or die?

It is not easy going for any of the animals: two adult polar bears and their baby cubs; a baby elephant and its mother; a young humpback whale and its mother. All face the treachery of Nature as they search for food and water.

The whales need to beware the potential attack of a great white shark as they migrate from the tropics to Antarctica in search of krill. Though the shark never attacks them, the footage of a Great White jumping 32 feet into the air as it devours a seal is absolutely spine-tingling. On screen, the Great White seems as big as a T-Rex. Clearly, in the ocean, it is just as deadly.

The gorgeous blue waters the whales ply contrast starkly with the ghostly, parched African desert the elephants must cross to reach drinking water in the Okavango delta. The baby and its mother manage to dodge the hungry jaws of a pride of starving lions – but one of their companions is not so lucky. At several points during their arduous journey, the little one, blinded by dust storms and weary from lack of food, appears on the verge of collapse. An aerial shot of the spreading desert and the shrinking Okavango leaves the disturbing impression that, even if the elephants make it this time, they may not be so lucky in the future.

Polar bears The polar bear cubs couldn't be cuter as they emerge from their den to a snow day every child can relate to. But miles away, their father struggles to find food. Polar bears use ocean ice as "hunting platforms" to snag seals. But as climate change melts ice faster, it is becoming harder and harder for the bears to find food. Papa bear eventually must take to land to avoid drowning. His desperate attempt to kill a walrus backfires as the walrus spears him with his tusk.

The cinematography is breathtaking, especially the shots of thousands of birds in flight. The filmmakers worked from hot air balloons and helicopters fitted with specially-made stabilized cameras to capture their subjects as they exist in the wild. One of the side stories in the film shows baby mandarin ducks emerging from the hole in a tree high above the ground that served as their nest. Each one tests its tiny wings in the same way: it leaps into the air, flaps a few times, and falls soundly to the ground – fortunately into a cushioning pile of leaves. It's absolutely adorable.

The film leaves no doubt about the beauty and value of Nature. But it makes almost no mention of the threats the natural world faces due to pollution or toxic chemicals, beyond some slight, passing references to climate change as the polar ice melts and as the desert spreads. This seems like a lost opportunity. The survival of all the animals featured in "Earth" is in question due to the impact people are having on the planet. The filmmakers made a beautiful movie – but they could have made an important one if they'd included information on how the audience affects the lives of the subjects on screen — and what they can do to make a difference.

20 Responses to Disney’s Earth Movie Is Breathtaking – but Misses an Opportunity to Educate

  1. marina villatoro April 2, 2009 at 7:12 am #

    I haven’t seen this movie. but i find that many of these movies, especially let’s say the 11th hour, are great in thought and theory, but they either go overboard or not enough. I’m gong to get Earth though, I heard it’s gorgeous. and you can add your own commentary when watching it with kids!
    The Travel Expert(a) and an Expat with a Twist

  2. Diane MacEachern April 2, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    Good point. One thing about “Earth” – Disney is planting a tree for every movie ticket sold!

  3. Dick Roberts April 3, 2009 at 10:14 pm #

    Outstanding, truthful, and beautiful Earth photog-raphy. Youngsters should learn that life is not peaches and cream and this film illustrates the realism of life. I disagree with those who feel that the film should politicize on subjects of conversation like pollution and climate change – or is it merely climate evolution? NO, we ought not trash the environment!

  4. EcoLabel Fundraising April 5, 2009 at 8:14 pm #

    Haven’t seen it yet, but will have to check it out. Looking forward to it – thanks for bringing it to my attention. I don’t watch much tv or or many movies. Only if I get a good recommendation!

  5. Lynn from Organicmania.com April 6, 2009 at 8:33 pm #

    Diane, what a beautiful review. Thanks for this great commentary. I don’t get out to the movies much, but now I feel like I have seen “Earth!” And I appreciate the warning as I’m sure “Big Boy” will ask to see this one…
    Lynn

  6. patty, GH April 8, 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    disney is certainly challenged by such an undertaking, especially in the light of Planet Earth and similar film projects. i look forward to attending the screening and wish them well in their “green efforts”.
    http://www.gatheringhome.com/2009/03/disney-promotes-earth-on-april-22.html

  7. Brenda April 8, 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    I look forward to actually seeing this movie. Your review is very good, thank you and I have included a link to it on my new page about the movie at http://www.squidoo.com/disneys-earth .
    Brenda

  8. Donald Kaczmer April 8, 2009 at 8:48 pm #

    I know the movie will be great because most of the previews I have seen have come from the DVD series Planet Earth.

  9. Danny April 16, 2009 at 11:20 am #

    It wasn’t until I had watched the trailer several times that a thought occurred to me, what about human predators? What about global warming? What about the copious amounts of waste we dump into our oceans? Granted, I have not seen the movie and I do believe I’ll go see it, but it should be noted that several of the shots on this trailer, the Great White in particular, are from Planet Earth.
    I disagree with those who say we shouldn’t take this opportunity to illustrate ALL threats these animals are under. Are we kidding ourselves? This is Disney! They’ve created an empire around selling things to kids. Now we have the opportunity to inspire younger generations to fight for our planet and we think it’s going to be too preachy?
    It sounds to me as though the people complaining about environmentalism in movies are the same individuals who gave Wall-E poor reviews because it pointed out, albeit an extreme example, the danger that indifference is playing in our lives. Is it just too much trouble to care? Perhaps I just don’t understand.

  10. Justin April 17, 2009 at 12:11 am #

    “Climate Change” or man-made global warming is a very hotly contested issue and there are tens of thousands of worldwide scientists who do not believe that humans 3% contribution to CO2 levels are having ANY effect on earth, aside from making it greener since CO2 is a vital plant food. CO2 has been far higher in the past countless times, even in ice ages. It would be absolutely disgusting if Disney promoted the political and environmentalist ideaology of man-made climate change on our children. That’s called indoctrination, not education. Real education would be showing the real science, on both sides, and frankly a Disney feature should not be bringing such a politicized issue into theatres anyhow. Leave the propaganda to Al Gore and Greenpeace please, and let Disney do what it does best.
    Granted, we should clean up garbage and chemicals, YES, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
    Important references:
    http://petitionproject.org
    http://www.ilovecarbondioxide.com
    http://www.co2science.org
    http://www.globalwarminghoax.com
    Regards.

  11. eeek April 23, 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    I’m all about doing what I can to help our beautiful planet Earth. I did not leave the theater happy and inspired. My husband’s words, “I don’t care to see animals suffer.” That coming from a man, people. If you love animals, and you go to the movies for fluffy feelings, this movie is bitter-sweet. Give me a second version that I can watch without having to close my eyes. I know it’s out there, I don’t need to see it, nor do I choose to watch baby animals being hunted.

  12. Mark April 27, 2009 at 5:17 am #

    Earth is a shockingly poor movie.
    The cinematography, colors and camera work are all EXCELLENT but that is where it ends.
    Unfortunately, that is also where Disney begins.
    The shots are almost all ripped from the fabulous BBC series Planet Earth and are, visually, stunning. However, it seems like the film makers have let Mickey Mouse write the script and Dumbo do the editing.
    The script is trite, sugary, lacking in scientific fact and actually contradicts itself more than once (the baby whale is male, then female later in the story). The narrative jumps from animal family to animal family without justifying the switch or giving closure to any one of the mini-vignettes painted.
    The part where the cheetah chases down the antelope is supposed to show (according to the narration) the ‘circle of life’ – yet the film cuts away before the kill leaving the circle more of a curve. fair enough, it’s supposed to be a ‘G’ movie, but you cannot extol the virtue of witnessing the ‘circle of life’ and then cut away before that same circle is rounded out.
    Overall, a shockingly poor use of some stunning film. The BBC should sue for cruel and unusual punishment of it’s beautiful footage.

  13. joepa April 27, 2009 at 6:29 am #

    this movie was rubbish..its simply clips from planet earth w/ james earl jones doing the voiceover instead of sig. weaver..actually sig. weaver is much better narrator..what a waste of money..dumbest part was during whale migration..whales are in southern ocean..earl jones..”whales safe…until now” flash to the great white shark vids shot in s. africa..as if the shark in south africa is posing a threat to the whales in the southern ocean??? please…this movie sucked..

  14. martinez May 3, 2009 at 10:06 am #

    This movie lures a family in with its Disney branding but lays entirely too much on young sensitive children (my 7yo couldn’t stop crying and finally had to leave the theatre). It could easily backfire in getting children to cut themselves off from feeling for the animals in self-defense. Making it either as traumatic or as desensitizing as a video game. People already attuned to enviro-issues will be the main audience and I for one find it refreshing when I can find a good educational, informative nature special that does not shove guilt down my throat along with my dose of fascinating information.(of which, I felt, this film had all too little)

  15. Dolly Bates May 4, 2009 at 10:15 am #

    How do we get that tree planted? We went to this movie the first week it was up. Enjoyed it.

  16. Greenies Gone Wild May 4, 2009 at 6:43 pm #

    This movie as all environmental propaganda targets children to primarily scare them into submission ….and the idea that humans are bad, destructive and animals and plants are somehow “innocent” and more important than humans. There was a recent study of U.S. school children that revealed that fully 1/3 of all kids believe that the environment will be destroyed by the time they grow up —the eco-radicals should be proud of themselves.
    It’s one thing to be good stewards of the Earth, and not be wasteful, but don’t lose perspective here…humans are not bad, destructive and animals and plants are not more important than humans. The only way to not have a carbon footprint is to eliminate humans…as the eco-radicals arguments go…let’s be careful about the messages sent by the eco-radicals, including the brainwashing going on in the elementary schools.

  17. Greenies Gone Wild May 4, 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    Sadly, the eco-radicals have scared our children..and parents we must stand up to this eco-brainwashing in our schools…enough already! Ask yourselves..how many hours of teacher time, paper etc. has been spent on “environmental causes” disguised as academic lessons (and now cropping up in all subjects_)? How many activities, notices, etc. did your kid’s school have for EARTH Day? Now think about how many (if any) activities your children’s school did for Memorial Day, or Veteran’s Day or Flag Day, Constitution Day? So our kids might be very versed on “trashology”..that is …knowledge about recycling, but don’t know a thing about History, Civics, our Constitution. Houston, I think we have a problem.

  18. bob May 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm #

    My 6 year old daughter was so bored by this insipid junk she insisted we walk out after an hour. Nice photography but I agree-a missed opportunity. Reminded me of MoH’s Wild Kingdom!

  19. Ian Simpson October 23, 2009 at 9:13 am #

    I am a kid who has watched this movie several times who can say that this movie is a load of crap! With the bear limping, the people probably shot it in the leg with a tranq. so It would appear wounded and go to sleep. On the binus features of the DVD, it even tells how the polar bear was not struggling to survive how it left it’s shore to go swimming for fun, it was relaxed!

  20. Caroline February 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    Thank you, thank you for your review. My husband and I rented the movie for our 4 yrs old son who loves animals! I was worried that, as always, we would have to endure animals being killed. I realize it’s part of nature, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for little children. They will learn soon enough about those things. Same on Disney for rating it “G”! Thank you for the “heads up”…I have the “skip button” on hand.

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