film strip showing animals on nature scene

Earth Day is great for raising awareness, but it isn’t helpful if we only think about the environment once a year. Fortunately, kids love watching movies, and many family-friendly films touch on environmental topics. Keep your kids thinking about the health of our planet all year long. These movies have a strong environmental message you can share with your kids.


(G, 2008)

The truly all-ages Wall-E does so many things right it earned a 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The main plotline may be about a lonely robot’s trip to outer space, but there’s no overlooking the fact that Wall-E is lonely because humans have literally trashed the planet, making it uninhabitable. Even as audiences root for the little robot, the lesson of the film is clear: People made a mess of their planet, and people need to clean it up.

Nim’s Island

(PG, 2008)

Critics were divided on the quality of Nim’s Island. But kids will connect with Nim, a young girl who lives on an isolated island with her scientist father. When her father gets stranded at sea, Nim defends her pristine island from hordes of cruise ship passengers. Kids will miss the irony in Nim treating wildlife like pets. But they won’t miss the point: The wilderness needs protection and kids don’t need to wait for adults to do it for them.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

(PG, 1985)

This highly rated film created by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli fame, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is available with subtitles or dubbed into English. Centuries after warfare has caused ecological disaster, Princess Nausicaa protects her people from more warlike factions and a sentient race of giant bugs that poison the atmosphere. Firm in her belief in the value of all life, Nausicaa must stop a war and the destruction of the bugs’ jungle by teaching others that nature is not a force to be subdued, but one to engage with peacefully.

Nelly’s Adventure

(unrated, 2016)

You might have to search to find the German film Nelly’s Adventure (original title: Nellys Abenteuer). It traveled the film festival circuit in 2016, but has not had a widespread U.S. release. In it, 13-year-old Nelly travels to Romania with her father, who is working on a solar power project. She makes friends with local kids and helps stop the construction of a massive dam project that will flood her new friends’ home. Wacky hijinks tend to overshadow the environmental themes, but the message is cutting-edge environmentalism. In this movie, the argument is no longer between coal and sustainable energy; it’s about which sustainable energy source will do the least damage.


(unrated, 1954)

It’s too soon to know whether the reboot coming to theaters in May will capture the ethos of the original 1954 Godzilla that spawned the kaiju B-movie genre. For all its rubber-suited cheesiness, the beating heart inside that first Japanese monster movie was a deep unease over mankind’s disregard of the natural world. Created — or awakened — by nuclear testing, Godzilla was a warning that messing with systems we don’t understand can unleash destructive forces we can’t control. The awkward English dubbing and obvious artificiality of the low-tech special effects make Godzilla appropriate for all but the youngest children.

Nature Documentaries

Don’t discount documentaries. Kids may whine before you press “play,” but the incredible photography in series like The Blue Planet (TV-G) and Planet Earth (TV-PG) will draw them in. These beautifully filmed series present lessons about human impact on global ecosystems. But perhaps even more notable, they establish the sense of awe that is a prerequisite for environmentalist attitudes. Beware that older documentaries do not always meet current standards for age-appropriateness or environmental sensitivity. Jacques Cousteau’s crew kills a baby whale and butchers sharks in The Silent World (unrated, 1956). For younger kids, DisneyNature condenses lengthy TV documentary miniseries into 90 minutes, removing some, but not all of the most intense predation images.

Feature image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay. This article was originally published on April 16, 2019.

By Gemma Alexander

Gemma Alexander has an M.S. in urban horticulture and a backyard filled with native plants. After working in a genetics laboratory and at a landfill, she now writes about the environment, the arts and family. See more of her writing here.