Story by Jessica Astin
Disney films are known for their adorable animals, but in the films made by their Disneynature division, the animals are real. From lions to dolphins to chimpanzees, the creatures featured are wild, tracked by documentary crews. Celebrities such as James Earl Jones and Samuel L. Jackson narrate the films.
The studio was created in 2008, in a response to the box office success of Warner’s March of the Penguins, which became the second highest grossing documentary of all time. Disney wanted a piece of the action, especially since documentaries often have smaller budgets.
This would not be the first time Disney produced documentaries. From the late 1940’s through 1960, Disney created a series of documentaries, including White Wilderness, the film which created the myth of lemming suicides. In addition to any financial success, the films netted the company several Oscars.
The first film of the newly launched division was Earth, released on Earth Day 2009, a documentary following three species across the globe. It was a hit, rocketing its way to become the fifth highest grossing documentary ever. Every year since, with the exception of 2013, Disneynature has released a film in theaters within a week of Earth Day.
Disneynature’s stated goals are twofold—a “commitment to bringing epic stories from nature to the big screen” and “to give something back to our stars, the wild creatures of planet Earth.” To make good on their goal, Disney has committed to giving back something for each ticket bought the first week a film is released. They also make a donation for every purchase of the Blu-ray the first week it is released.
For Earth, they partnered with The Nature Conservancy, claiming to have planted three million trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest region. They teamed up again for Oceans to protect 40,000 acres of coral reef in the Bahamas. For African Cats, they collaborated with the African Wildlife Foundation to protect 65,000 acres of the savanna. With Chimpanzee they worked with the Jane Goodall Institute to protect thousands of acres of the Congo and for Bears they gave to the National Park Foundation to protect wildlife and fund research.
This year, the film is Monkey Kingdom, narrated by Tina Fey, which follows a family of blonde-bobbed monkeys in their quest for a home. Tickets purchased for opening week will benefit Conservation International in their battle to protect land and animals in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. However, only twenty cents of every ticket will go to this cause, and only on tickets bought opening week. Given that the average ticket price is estimated at $8.17, that means less than 2.5% of the ticket price goes to Conservation International. However, some of the proceeds of the merchandise listed on the film’s website also go to the cause, and it is likely a percentage of the first week’s Blu-ray sales will as well.
If you’re interested in Conservation International, you can visit their website at www.conservation.org to learn more or make a tax deductible donation. To learn more about Disneynature or Monkey Kingdom, go to http://nature.disney.com.