This Earth Day, Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort isn’t the only anniversary Disney fans should be celebrating. 2018 also marks the 10th anniversary of Disneynature, Disney’s family focused line of nature films. The new studio division was announced on April 21st, 2008, and released its first film just one year later.

How Disneynature has Changed the World

When you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you are presented with numerous opportunities to donate to the Disney Conservation Fund, which helps habitats and communities all over the world. When you see a Disneynature film, you are helping the planet in more specific ways. Disney always donates a portion of first week theatrical and home video sales to a specific organization. Below is the breakdown of how audiences have helped the environment simply by viewing one of the theatrical Disneynature films.

  • Earth – The Nature Conservancy used these donations to plant 3 million trees in Brazil’s most endangered forest.
  • Oceans – The Nature Conservancy was able to protect 40,000 acres of coral reef in the Bahamas.
  • African Cats – The African Wildlife Foundation secured 65,000 acres of savannas in Kenya to create conservation corridors.
  • Chimpanzee – The Jane Goodall Institute used this donation to protect 130,000 acres in the Congo as a chimpanzee habitat in addition to educating over 60,000 local youth about their mischievous neighbors.
  • Bears – The National Park Foundation applied these funds to conservation projects that protect a combined 400,000 acres of US National Parks, including protecting species and educating park visitors.
  • Monkey Kingdom – Conservation International applied this donation to conservation projects that protect 1,000,000 acres in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka that protect multiple species and in addition to fresh drinking water for local populations.
  • Born in China – The World Wildlife Fund used these proceeds to protect 495,000 acres for pandas, started a project designed to boost panda reproduction, education campaigns about community-owned forests, and kickstarted a snow leopard conservation program.

The Disney Family Legacy

Roy E. Disney got his start at the Walt Disney Studios working on Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventure films. While Disneynature takes a more serious tone, the message is still the same: Letting nature tell the story and introducing audiences to new regions and species. Roy passed away in December of 2009, but used his connection to Disney’s earliest nature films to help sell audiences on the concept. He could be seen in promotional materials and bonus features for the first two Disneynature films, Earth and Oceans.

It All Started with a Penguin

March of the Penguins took the world by storm in 2005, a French nature documentary produced in partnership with National Geographic (which is owned by 21st Century Fox). After becoming an international success, Disney bid for the domestic release rights and lost them to Warner Bros. Bob Iger was quoted as saying “A lightbulb went off and we said that should have been a Disney film worldwide. That’s part of the Disney heritage.” In a re-release, March of the Penguins was branded as a Disneynature film in France. The recent sequel, March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step, was also released as a Disneynature film in France, while the domestic release is a Hulu Original. Disney was a co-financier of the sequel.

Disneynature’s headquarters is still in France and the devision is lead by Jean-Francois Camilleri, who oversaw the first March of the Penguins film. The first original Disneynature film put into production was The Crimson Wing, which was released direct to video in the US. But the first Disneynature film to hit theaters was Earth, a 90-minute feature film edit of the BBC television series, Planet Earth. Unlike the rest of the films in the brand, Disney wasn’t actively involved in the production of the footage and it was only branded as a Disneynature film in North America (a non-Disney sequel was released in 2007, based on the sequel series Planet Earth II). It’s worth noting that Earth features at least a few shots of penguins.

The Future of Disneynature (More Penguins)

Disneynature quietly pulled their 2018 film, Dolphins, from the release slate (It was released in France in March where it is called Blue). It was originally scheduled to hit theaters on April 20th, 2018, and the studio has yet to announce a reason for the delay. My theory is that it is being saved for the upcoming Disney streaming service and my hope is that they still continue the global conservation effort by converting a portion of subscription payments into a donation for anyone who views the film in its first week. It was surely a surprising move given that they had already spent a year promoting the film.

There is one other Disneynature film that has been announced, Disneynature Penguins is scheduled to be released on Earth Day 2019. It feels like the project is coming full circle in several ways now that Disney is telling their own penguin story. Like all the other Disneynature films, I’m sure it will be beautiful and I hope the line continues for years to come.

Disneynature recently began ramping up projects with a few direct-to-digital releases. Growing Up Wild is like a highlight reel of the baby moments from four previous films (African Cats, Chimpanzee, Bears, and Monkey Kingdom). Two feature length behind-the-scenes documentaries were also produced about the making of Born in China, Ghost of the Mountains follows a camera crew trying to film the elusive snow leopard while Expedition China showcases the crew capturing footage of animals like pandas and snub nosed monkeys.

My Top Five Disneynature Films

If you want to celebrate ten years of Disneynature films by watching one of these fine productions, I present my top five films in the series:

  1. The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos – There’s nothing more beautiful than watching these flamingos grow up against the odds in harsh conditions.
  2. Monkey Kingdom – Nature tells a Cinderella story about an outcast monkey trying to climb the social ladder, or tree as the case may be, while raising a young child. Tina Fey adds witty narrations to this gem.
  3. Born in China – The wonders of China come to life with never before captured footage of a snow leopard mother, some incredible panda footage, and other species from the highest plateaus in the world.
  4. Earth – The film that started it all is still one of the best, showcasing some of the most breathtaking nature footage ever captured. James Earl Jones is the perfect narrator for this circle of life story.
  5. Chimpanzee – Oscar is an orphaned chimpanzee when a truly rare thing happens, an unrelated male chimp decides to take over maternal responsibilities to help the young one survive.

As Disney fans, it’s great to see Disney giving back to the world that has embraced it wholeheartedly. With Disneynature, Disney entertains and educates while also taking initiative to improve the lives of its subject matter. If you can’t be at Disney’s Animal Kingdom this Earth Day, I recommend celebrating Disneynature’s 10th anniversary with one of their nine feature films.