Jan 152015
 

This is a companion piece to my recent post Five Outdoor Adventure Movies to Connect Kids With Nature. It’s one thing to show kids movies that demonstrate how fun/challenging/rewarding it can be to get lost in the wilderness but if you’re planning to get stranded in the bush they should know something about the wildlife they’ll encounter. If it’s inconvenient to get to the jungles of Borneo to see wild orangutans for yourself, documentaries are a great way to introduce kids to the wonders of the natural world beyond your local woods. Check out these documentaries to see where in the world your kids might want to go next.

Born to be Wild

Adorable

Born to be Wild
Recommended for ages 5 and up
Originally shot in IMAX 3D this documentary switches back and forth between orangutans in Borneo and elephants in Kenya. The story centers on the efforts of scientists to protect, nurture, and release into the wild young animals who have been orphaned by poachers. There is no violence shown but it provides an opportunity for families to discuss the plight of these endangered animals.

Wings of Life
Recommended for ages 5 and up
The birds and the bees – literally – as well as bats, butterflies, and flowers. This documentary focuses on the complex relationships between plants and the flying creatures that aid in the process of pollination. While a film like Earth takes the long view in its sweeping vista of a continent Wings of Life gets close-up and in slow motion to provide a detailed view of the delicate processes and structures involved in the interrelationships between plants and animals.

Earth

Saves having to watch all 11 hours of the series.

Earth
Recommended for ages 7 and up
This is the 90-minute version of the epic 11-hour BBC/Discovery Channel series Planet Earth. This gorgeously filmed documentary follows animals on each of the seven continents over the course of a year. Like all nature documentaries life for these animals can be hard and death is always present. While there’s nothing particularly gruesome in this one you do see predators actually catching their prey so sensitive viewers should be aware.

Chimpanzee
Recommended for ages 7 and up
Nature documentaries often push the line of anthropomorphizing their subjects. And never more so when dealing with the most human of animals, apes. The first time I saw the trailer for Chimpanzee I thought there was no way I was going to show this to my kids. They would be reduced to weeping puddles of sorrow as we watched adorable baby Chimpanzee Oscar orphaned by a rival troop and then adopted by the alpha male in his group, Freddie. As it happens, Tim Allen’s jokey and sometimes inappropriate narration distracted from the pathos of Oscar’s story.

African Cats

Baby predators – still adorable.

African Cats
Recommended for ages 8 and up
I considered making this age recommendation older because this documentary, due to the predatory nature of its protagonists, is more consistently violent than the others. It’s not particularly gory but death is present in African Cats in a way it isn’t in the others. It doesn’t help that the narration plays up the human characteristics of the main cats. Having said all that, however, there is also plenty of footage of adorable cubs frolicking through gorgeous cinematography, so if big cats are your thing this is definitely worthwhile.

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