April is the month when we celebrate the wonders of Mother Nature and talk about how we can better protect our planet from ourselves. So naturally, it makes sense that it’s a big month for nature documentaries, the best of which create awe as they inspire us to act.
Among the best are two new releases we’re particularly excited about. The first, Our Great National Parks, follows former President Obama as he explores some of the most stunning and important parks around the globe, from Monterey Bay, California to Tsavo National Park in Kenya (where his father came from), to Gunung Leuser National Park in the rainforests of Indonesia (a country where Obama spent some time when he was growing up). Rather than focus solely on the beauty of each park, the doc shines a light on the role they play in critical scientific research and preserving endangered species. Obama is not just the host of the series; his production company, Higher Ground, brought it to life.
The second new documentary, Polar Bear, is an emotionally stirring addition to the Disneynature series intended for the entire family. Featuring narration by Catherine Keener, it follows a new mama bear as she struggles to raise her cubs and survive in the rapidly changing arctic. The film features captivating footage of polar bears interacting in ways that haven’t been seen before, but it also delivers lessons that hit home and could inspire viewers to act.
Both docs will inspire you to become more conservation conscious and add to your appreciation for the wonders of the natural world. To go deeper, check out these engrossing, entertaining and inspiring films:
Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Before the Flood follows DiCaprio as he journeys around the world to reveal just how severe climate change is. Since that’s not terrifying enough, the film also focuses on deniers and the inherent politics that are destroying our environment. The film’s overall message is how crucial it is that we deal with the climate crisis, and one way for us to ensure that is with is to use our vote. This election year, make sure you know where the candidates stand on environmental issues and what actions they pledge to take if elected. Then, hold them to it.
Stream it on: Disney Plus
Despite the fact that 70 percent of our planet is ocean, there is still so much we don’t know about the deep blue. In this gorgeously filmed two-part series narrated by David Attenborough, viewers are exposed to the strange creatures that lurk beneath the depths. Since life under the sea is so mysterious, the filmmakers were presented with a unique set of challenges they managed to overcome. In part II, the series delves into how global warming is affecting our oceanic friends.
Stream it on: Discovery +
Who doesn’t love pandas? It’s hard not to adore these guys when they frolic in the snow. Or any other time, for that matter. Born in China is a Disneynature documentary that takes place in—wait for it—China, and focuses on YaYa the Giant Panda and her daughter MeiMei, who is quite the curious cub. There’s also Tao Tao, a golden snub-nosed monkey who is struggling to fit in with his family, and a snow leopard named Dawa, who has two young cubs she must protect. The documentary also features breathtaking shots of China and is guaranteed to tug on your heartstrings.
Stream it on: Disney Plus
When Blackfish was released in 2013, it caused such a ruckus that SeaWorld made some severe changes to its parks. The film centers on Tilikum, one of the performing orcas at the aquatic theme park. Captivity and forced showmanship did not suit Tilikum, who ended up killing three people. Tilikum isn’t a psychopath—Blackfish details how debilitating it is for whales and other mammals to be kept in captivity. You might want to keep some tissues handy for this one. And you may never want to visit SeaWorld again.
Stream it on: Prime Video, Tubi, Hoopla
One of the first nature documentaries to break through to a more mainstream audience, March of the Penguins follows the journey of a group of emperor penguins through their mating season. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, whose god-like voice observes the wobbling penguins perfectly, the documentary includes amazing cinematography and proves that while penguins are delightful, they are hardy little guys who are dedicated parents. Even the most cold-hearted viewer won’t be able to resist how cute the penguins are, but be prepared for some tragic moments that might be too real for younger viewers.
Stream it on: HBO Max
It’s not everyday that one becomes a turkey mom, but that’s what happens to naturalist Joe Hutto after a group of wild turkey chicks imprint on him. Hutto has no choice but to raise the turkeys, who believe that he is their mother. In the process he learns far more about turkeys then he ever initially planned to, and by extension we in the audience do too. We’re going to assume Hutto eats a different main course on Thanksgiving. This doc may inspire you to do the same.
Stream it on: Hoopla
If you really loved Frozen, this is the nature documentary for you. In the film, filmmakers head out to some of the chilliest places on the planet—including Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska—to capture just how much climate change has destroyed these icy landscapes. Watching massive glaciers melt away at rapid rates is definitely alarming, and if that isn’t disturbing enough for you, the filmmakers made a sequel called Chasing Coral that focuses on our shrinking coral reefs.
Stream Chasing Ice on: Apple TV (for rent)
Stream Chasing Coral on: Netflix
Narrated by John C. Reilly, whose voice is as cuddly as a bear, Bears focuses on an Alaskan brown bear who has just given birth to two cubs. Disneynature sure seems to be working under the impression that everyone loves to watch baby bears doing pretty much anything. They’re not wrong. As the film goes on, the bear and her cubs are faced with their own set of unique bear challenges, such as learning how to catch food and protect themselves from wolves. But it’s more than just a cute family story. As adorable as the subjects are, the film does emphasize how hard it is to be a bear.
Stream it on: Disney Plus