Penny Stallings, ecology.com’s Species Curator and noted cultural commentator, offers her views on ten animated movies, whose casts of colorful, cuddly creatures entertain and enlighten audiences about the environment. - Bridget Terry, ecoFilmmaking Curator
Top Ten Animated EcoFilms
EcoValues for the Kids vs Controversy for the Pundits
Since its recent U.S. opening, THE LORAX has topped the box office, taking in over $160 million so far — entertaining throngs of parents and kids, while infuriating conservative pundits on TV, radio and print. Based on one of Dr. Seuss’ lesser-known books, the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) is a small woodland creature with a large yellow mustache who speaks on behalf of the trees — warning a greedy manufacturer named the Once-ler of the disastrous effect his intended clear-felling will have on natural habitats.
The movie’s ecological theme – according to Fox News and a number of other conservative opinion makers – is just another blatant example of Hollywood-types pushing their liberal agenda on those least likely to see the subversive message through the cartoon trees: the children! That’s right: even a few minutes with THE LORAX are bound to convert the little ones into unabashed tree-huggers.
As you’ll see from the movies on the following list, it’s not the first time that an animated film story told from an environmentalist point of view has been accused of sprouting green propaganda. So, if by some chance, you are one of the millions of ticket-buyers who enjoyed THE LORAX because of — or even despite – its Green-ish hue, here are nine other animated films to rent that could continue to teach your children a few eco-friendly lessons — while entertaining them – and you – at the same time.
Carping about a perceived dissident undertone in animated children’s films isn’t a new thing. Not by a long shot. In fact, the first animated nature-themed film to get grief dates back seven decades. And it came from one of the industry’s most famous conservatives…Walt Disney.
When Bambi was first released, it was slammed in some quarters because of its loveable-animals-versus-coldhearted-humans storyline. Hunters were particularly incensed, calling it “an insult to American sportsmen.” Even those who admired its artistic virtuosity complained about the film’s darkness, with one leading critic labeling it a “thoroughly unpleasant” experience. He had a point. Bambi is one of the most famously heart-wrenching movies ever made. Children and parents alike still crumple when Bambi’s father tells him “your mother can’t be with you anymore,” after she is killed by a hunter. If that weren’t bad enough, Bambi himself is shot while saving his sweetheart from vicious hunting dogs. And let’s not even talk about the horrendous forest fire ignited by “Man.
Happily for nature lovers, Bambi’s message of forest conservation comes across as loud and clear today as it did 70 years ago.
Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
Disapproval of eco-themes isn’t limited to Righties. The New York Times described the star-studded Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest as “an uncertain blend of sanctimonious principles and Saturday-morning cartoon aesthetics.” And it’s true that the film’s animated fairies preach incessantly on conservation, pollution and even junk food. But mostly the fairies fear for the survival of their home in the rain forest – which is scheduled for annihilation by humans – creatures they had long believed to be mythical. Look for a logging device called The Leveler and the malevolent Hexxus who gets his power from drinking pollution. Featuring the voices of Robin Williams, Cheech and Chong, Tim Curry, and Christian Slater.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Hayao Miyazaki’s dreamlike animated epic set in medieval Japan spins the timeless tale of humankind’s progress as played out against nature’s delicate balance, as a mining community disrupts the sanctity of the local forest divinities. Masterfully told in beautiful tableaus, this is one for the time capsule (if the time capsule isn’t buried anywhere close to a toxic waste dump).
Chicken Run (2000)
Not since Charlotte’s Web and Babe, have vegetarians had such appealing heroes to root for as Rocky the Rooster and Ginger the Chicken of Chicken Run. Locked away in a British poultry farm in the 1950s, the couple yearns for its freedom. The film follows them as they make a daring escape from a prison-style farm in this Claymation confection from Aardman Animations studios, the creators of Wallace and Gromit.
Over the Hedge (2005)
Greed, rampant consumerism and progress at any cost rear their ugly heads again when a group of forest friends awake from hibernation to find that a suburban housing development has almost obliterated their forest home. The critters are hilarious and resourceful, even if they do have a politically-incorrect penchant for junk food. But what can you expect, when your leader is a raccoon? Featuring the voices of Bruce Willis, Gary Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, Nick Nolte and Avril Lavigne.
Happy Feet 1 & 2 (2006 & 2009)
The catchy songs and shimmering underwater sequences help to soften this film’s hard-hitting message about the danger of commercial over-fishing and pollution to the Antarctic and its animal inhabitants. The sequel, HF2 went even further according to its critics, with references to collectivism, international bailouts, feminism, same-sex marriage, vegetarianism, the United Nations and even Occupy Wall Street (even though the later didn’t exist until after the movie was completed). “Well played, lefties,” Kyle Smith of the New York Post wrote, “This is Kiddie Karl Marx.”
In WALL-E the garbage-covered earth of the future has been rendered uninhabitable because of man’s destructive habits and raging consumerism. Its landscape is barren and inert with the exception of an adorable trash-collecting robot named WALL-E. To WALL-E’s surprise, a very human-like emotion overtakes him when he encounters his soul mate, the robot EVE – whom he pursues through space to prove his love. After a series of harrowing adventures in the disastrously devolved human world, WALL-E and EVE seal their love with a kiss and provide the earth with a second chance.
In yet another animated film to draw the ire of Fox News, the prodigious talents at Pixar contemplated the negative impacts of Big Oil, while sending its lovable and loquacious cars to race in the World Grand Prix International. Lightning McQueen and Mater from the first Cars are back along with a former oil tycoon named Miles Axelrod who has become a green power activist with a bio-fuel called Allinol.
The film’s director John Lasseter didn’t bother to deny the film’s obvious eco-message. “Why isn’t alternative fuel more successful?” he said. “It makes so much sense: Electricity, solar, ethanol. There’s all this stuff you could be doing. And so I thought, well, that could be really cool in that you could have big oil versus alternative fuel. That’s when we kind of crafted the bad guy’s story.”
The Muppet Movie (2011)
In the most recent cinematic offering from the furry facecloths, the Muppets stop an evil oil tycoon – with the unsubtle name of Tex Richman – from flattening their beloved theater to drill for oil.
“Yes, it’s a Muppet movie — farcical and silly,” wrote Iris Somberg of the conservative watchdog group Newsbusters. “But how sadly predictable that the villain is the perennial bogeyman of liberal environmentalists, and how sadly telling that the writers politicized a children’s movie. Again.”
Miss Piggy had no comment.