If you're sorely missing a trip to the parks and a big fan of Disney's Animal Kingdom, I've got a fun way you can live out the stories in the park at home...and see all the animals too! Disney has produced an impressive collection of nature documentaries over the last few years that are educational but also fun for the whole family. If you're looking for a way to distract the kids this weekend at home and willing to do some hardcore binging on Disney+, I've got 25 movies you can watch inspired by Disney World's most beautiful park. I know that 25 movie titles sounds like a lot, but some of this films are on the shorter side hovering around 90 minutes. If you want to enjoy a slimed down version, I've highlighted my TOP 10 in red to enjoy a condensed, yet still thorough movie marathon . So grab the popcorn, sit back and enjoy.
Disneynature's Earth (2009)
To set the mood right, the hardcore marathoner looking to watch all the films in today's list should start by watching Disneynature's 2007 film, Earth. Like the Oasis preps guests for a fun-filled day of adventures at the park, this film sets the stage for all the themes tied to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Not only does it look more closely at specific species of animals, but it also takes a big step back and reveals the bigger picture. Detailing how our planet's unique qualities serves as the perfect cradle for life. But if we don't take care of our precious planet, many of the animals depicted in this film will have a troubled future. So Earth will truly put you in the right mindset for all the other films in today's list. However, it is currently not available on Disney+ and only available to rent or purchase on iTunes. So if you're looking to stick to Disney's streaming platform, move on to the next film to start your journey. But a keen conservationist, will enjoy this first entry on the list.
One of the most overlooked Pixar films ever produced is front and center on Discovery Island, A Bug's Life. While the 3D film inside the magnificent Tree of Life may not be everyone's favorite, the 1998 animated film is surprisingly very funny even by today's standards. Flick, an inventive yet somewhat distracted little ant, sets out on a quest to find warrior bugs to fight off the evil Hopper and his gang. The story also displays how even the smallest of creatures on our planet, play a vital role in the circle of life. It's the perfect way to start an Animal Kingdom movie marathon if you're sticking to the top ten films and an entertaining movie to ease things.
But this movie list is not all about cute animated films, it also features a fantastic collection of Disneynature films and the perfect one to start with that also ties to Discovery Island is The Crimson Wing. This film tells the tale of how a flock of flamingos gather over a huge salt island in Tanzania. On a visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom, the flamingo habitat at the foot of the Tree of Life is one of the first animal encounters you'll experience, so naturally this film is a good one to watch early on. This interesting documentary also shows the surprisingly difficult life of the lesser flamingo and will prep the younger viewers for the more serious themes in the other documentaries.
But Discovery Island is also the place to meet favorite Disney characters inside the park. Over the years, guests have been able to meet Flick, Tarzan, Pocahontas and so many more characters on Discovery Island that stem from stories that focus on man's relationship with nature and animals. Therefore, I've decided to place some of these films in this section of the list despite some, like Tarzan, having ties to other continents seen in the park. These inclusions are solely based on the fact that you'll meet these characters in this land inside the park. But if you're skipping over some of the animated films, you at least must watch Pixar's 2009 film, Up! Besides Discovery Island being the place to meet Kevin and sign up to be a Wilderness Explore like Russell, the spirit of adventure in this film perfectly sums up Animal Kingdom and after watching this one, you'll be inspired to travel to more exotic lands around the globe.
The Lion King (2019)
Disney's version of Africa takes guests through the village of Harambe and at the main show theatre here, you can watch one of Disney World's best live shows. Therefore, a viewing of the smash hit The Lion King is a must for an Animal Kingdom binge session. The question is, which version do you watch? The traditionalist in me says if you only have time for one of the two, you should watch the original 1994 animated version. But if you want to enjoy a more realistic perspective of the story of Pride Rock, the 2019 live-action remake is just as good. The choice is really yours.
There's also a great collection of Disneynature films that showcase many of the animals found on the African continent. African Cats is great for those who want to learn more about lions like Simba and Mufasa and Whispers is an interesting, long-forgotten film perfect for elephant lovers. This 2000 movie is almost like a documentary in that the filmmakers shot footage of real elephants in Botswana. But on top of that, a script was constructed and actors voiced the elephants as if they are characters in a fictional story. So this film would be a good watch for really young toddlers who can't sit through a more traditional documentary, but want to see these majestic creatures up close.
But if there's only time for one real documentary in this Africa section of the marathon, the new Elephant film that just premiered on Disney+ is a must. The film follows a herd of elephants on a great migration to a grassy paradise. Narrated by Meghan Markle, this could be the first of possibly more collaborations with Disney. If you're a fan of nature documentaries, you can also watch the supplemental film In the Footsteps of Elephant. Which shows how the documentary was shot. Those who enjoy seeing what happens behind the scenes on a complicated production such as this one can also stream this on Disney+.
In honor of Conservation Station's more direct message to humans to take care of our planet, I've added the National Geographic documentary Jane to this list. The 2017 film focuses on the legendary scientist, Jane Goodall. This revisit to her work in Gombe studying chimpanzees is a fascinating, in-depth look at her contributions to animal conservation. Footage used in this documentary include never-before-seen scenes that not only show her revolutionary work upclose, but also the effects it had on her personal life. It's really a piece about Jane as a human first and foremost. It's an inspiring look at how a woman challenged the norms of gender roles in the family and how she balanced the love for her husband and child while pursuing a challenging career.
If you're going for the bigger and longer movie marathon, Disneynature's Chimpanzee is the perfect follow up to Jane. If it wasn't for her extended research with the species, we wouldn't know as much as we do now about our primate cousins.
The Jungle Book (1967)
Disney's version of Asia is home to some fantastic animal habitats ranging from gibbons to tigers. It's also home to a great thrill ride that takes guests up the highest point on our planet deep in the Himalayan Mountains. Needless to say, there are some fantastic films to watch in honor of this northwest corner of the park. Piggy backing off of Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees, the next great nature documentary to watch by Disney is Monkey Kingdom. The 2015 film follows a family of macaques in Sri Lanka. The troupe's male leader Rajah, has claimed an ancient temple ruin as his home for the family and reminds me of the gibbon habitat at the center of Asia at Animal Kingdom. It's one of my favorite nature films by Disney in that they've captured an interesting story and it offers a surprising look at how these cuddly-looking creatures are actually quite vicious and territorial. The film is both humorous and thrilling.
But no trip to Asia is complete without watching one of my most beloved Disney films, The Jungle Book. Like The Lion King, it's a really tough call on which version to watch if you're only committing to the shorter version of this marathon. The original features one of the best movie soundtracks made by Disney, but the 2016 remake offers incredible special effects. If I was to really dwindle it down, I would say watching the 1967 original is slightly better. Only because the remake excludes the songs; yes you will hear select melodies or segments of the songs in the remake, but you don't get the full glory of the Sherman Brothers' iconic tunes.
For extra credit, the adults wanting a more serious documentary than Disney typically offers, should watch the 2015 film Sherpa. An incredible look at the perils of climbing Mount Everest and a deeper perspective on the local people. The film follows Phurba Tashi, a Sherpa who has climbed the mountain more times than any other human being on the planet, but whose family objects the dangerous line of work. When an avalanche kills 16 fellow Sherpas, the discussion of wether or not foreign travelers should continue climbing Everest, endangering the lives of those locals who take them up the summit, causing deep controversy. It compares the Sherpas who have a deeper, more spiritual connection with the landscape to the tourists who see it as simply an athletic challenge. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2015 to rave reviews, and it's the one film on the list not really suited for younger viewers given the dark events that take place.
DinoLand U.S.A. is an odd section of Disney's Animal Kingdom, and therefore we have an eclectic group of films dedicated to the land. Of course, Pixar fans will probably take any excuse to watch Finding Nemo, since the land is home to a great musical interpretation of the film. But another somewhat overlooked film is the true anchor of this land. Dinosaur is a 2000 hybrid film that combines live-action settings with CGI characters; in this case a group of dinosaurs trying to escape the perils of a meteor shower. It's actually one of the most important films to watch if you are to honor the park because the attraction Dinosaur, originally called Countdown to Extinction, was directly tied to the movie and the two were meant to cross-promote the other. You don't have to watch the movie to understand the storyline of the attraction, but this family friendly story about Aladar and his search to the Nesting Grounds is better than you think. If you have toddlers not ready to watch the more intense story directed by Steven Spielberg, Dinosaur is a great film to watch with them.
22.) DuckTales S1 E14 'Dinosaur Ducks' (1987) - available on Disney+ and iTunes
But of course, I've save the best for last. The crown jewel of Disney's Animal Kingdom is Pandora - The World of Avatar. Therefore ending this marathon with James Cameron's huge hit Avatar is a natural finale. If you haven't seen it, the 2009 epic follows a paraplegic Marine veteran, Jake Sully, on his journey to the moon planet of Pandora. Where he serves as a replacement for his deceased brother, a leading scientist on Dr. Grace Augustine's team studying the local Na'Vi people. He befriends one of the Na'Vi females called Neytiri, the daughter of a clan leader and destined to marry another. She teaches him the way of her people and their respect for all life on Pandora. The two fall in love, the military unit part of the science team sent to Pandora want to destroy her home and you get the rest. Disney's physical interpretation of Pandora is truly one of the most breathtaking achievements by Imagineers. While knowledge of the film and story are not required to appreciate the beauty of Pandora, a viewing of the blockbuster film will get you excited for your next trip to Disney's Animal Kingdom...and a few more sequels by James Cameron.
Want even more films to watch inspired by Walt Disney World? Check out my other lists to have a fun movie marathon at home inspired by Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios as well as Future World and World Showcase at Epcot. But don't forget to watch my recent YouTube video 15 Hidden Details inside Disney's Animal Kingdom which reveals references to some of the films in the list above and other fascinating smaller details throughout the park.