What kid doesn’t love a good yarn about the secret lives of animals? If you’re tired of the sappy fare that leaves everyone sniffling behind tissues (Old Yeller, Marley and Me, etc.) and you’d like something a little more educational, you’re in luck. The last several years have produced a superlative slate of animal-centric documentaries that are anything but dull. So pop up some corn, sit back, and relax as you explore the real lives of some of the many animals that populate our planet.
This BBC series, which originally aired on television, is now available in stunning clarity thanks to release on Blu-Ray. And the scope of the footage captured and the lonely corners of the Earth that had to be visited and staked out in order to get it will have you absolutely reeling. You might want to cover the kids’ eyes during slow-motion attack sequence (like the Great White shark leaping out of the water to catch an airborne seal in its massive chompers), but they’ll no doubt enjoy everything else, from bioluminescent squid to nomadic camels to exotic birds involved in complex mating dances. With time-lapse photography, super-slow-motion sequences, and footage of animals doing things that no one had ever seen before, this documentary was revolutionary upon its first airing. And thanks to their incredible attention to detail and high-resolution filming, it remains relevant and entirely captivating today.
Emperor penguins are the largest of their species, growing up to four feet tall. But beyond their great size, they are probably best known for the extensive journeys they make annually to reach their breeding grounds and hatch their eggs in the frigid Antarctic winter. This seemingly bizarre practice has been captured by filmmaker Luc Jacquet and given life by narrator Morgan Freeman.
This film was shot across seven continents over the course of three years, and the filmmakers utilized balloons, gliders, and a number of other strategies to capture up-close footage of these winged creatures in their natural element. As you may imagine, that dedication led to some pretty spectacular footage of migrating birds.
This film follows the same basic format as March of the Penguins and Winged Migration, except that it tracks the journey of two families living in the Arctic Circle: a polar bear with her cub, and a walrus with her calf. Because these two species are currently facing hardships due to the melting of the polar ice caps, this film provides a timely lesson to kids in the ways that pollution and waste are affecting our planet and the many species that call it home. Narration by Queen Latifah and music by Joby Talbot help to add some pizzazz to this documentary and make it a little easier to digest for kids raised on a steady diet of Disney.
Okay, so this Richard Gere movie is not actually a documentary (dogumentary?); it’s a film that’s based on a true story. But if the kids are used to the production value of mainstream movies and they simply can’t sit still through films that don’t feature trained actors and animals for movies, this may be a good compromise. Hachi is the heartwarming story of a rescued dog that comes to meet his best friend (a college professor played by Richard Gere) at the train depot every day, even after the man passes away. Of course, it’s not a total downer; the town rallies around the woebegone pooch and becomes his new family.