Deputy Culture Editor - Books
A curated list of the most impactful films to watch regarding the climate crisis.
For me, it feels that every year that has passed since my late childhood has been marked with a growing sense of urgency concerning the Earth’s environmental welfare. Now, as a second-year university student who is mostly living independently, I find myself making far more eco-friendly decisions than my parents ever have. This isn’t to say that my mum and dad aren’t doing their best, but my comparatively lower carbon footprint does lead me to think that there has to be a generational reason for my environmental awareness.
I can think of three reasons for this. First of all – I’m a broke university student so I can’t afford a car or to eat meat on a common basis, so public transport and plain pasta are therefore my weapons of choice. Secondly, I’m constantly connected to worldwide occurrences with a refresh of my Twitter feed, which includes every nugget of information about how next the world is going to burn to a crisp. Thirdly, and finally, I’m a firm believer that I grew up subconsciously eco-aware, and I’d argue that the films I watched as a kid are a big player in this.
As a result, I present to you a concise list of what I believe are some of the best animated films concerned with environmental awareness. These titles are in no way conclusive of the theme, but were certainly formative to my own eco-warrior mindset growing up.
Happy Feet's insanely depressing latter act sequences remain fresh in my mind even 10 years after watching it. You’d expect a movie about dancing penguins to be naught but peppy and cheerful, but there’s something about watching a cute little CGI bird get choked by six-pack plastic rings that drives a stake into your heart. Nonetheless, Happy Feet’s poignant awareness and inclusions of environmental issues packaged in-between sequences of penguins breaking it down to Boogie Wonderland is something not just welcomed but deeply necessary.
I do have a penchant for adorable animals, but I’m near certain that Happy Feet brought consciousness of how the climate crisis is affecting the entirety of the world’s wildlife to a whole generation in a way that Disney’s cute – and just cute – animal flicks could not. Yes, the whole film feels like a mass-organised hallucinatory nightmare at times, but it cares in a way that many films with a repertoire of fuzzy creatures for a cast do not.
One of Studio Ghibli’s most well-known works, Princess Mononoke is a gorgeous gallop through a festival of hand-drawn animation, stunning scores and heart-breaking scenes. There’s a specific magical feeling you get whenever you watch a Hayao Miyazaki movie, and that feeling is in no way absent here. A sense of nostalgia leaks at every seam of the film, only to be ripped apart slowly from the skin like a plaster as we are brought to the realisation of the reason for the boar god’s corruption at the beginning of the movie – the forest of the western lands is systematically being razed by Lady Eboshi in order to manufacture firearms in the aptly named Irontown.
Played to the mournful tune of Japanese folklore, Princess Mononoke is a sorrowfully charming work that brings to light the disgusting qualities of wartime greed when juxtaposed with ever-forgiving Mother Nature. This was a film I discovered at an older age, but as with many other Studio Ghibli films, I can be sure that it would have been just as effortlessly mesmerising when it was released as it is now. It communicates so well the endless consequences of war; not only on humankind but on the whole planet.
To conclude my short list I give to you Wall-E: the intergalactic love story of a little friendly robot who finds a tiny seedling in a world teeming with millennia of discarded waste. There’s things to be said about the film’s naively optimistic conclusion, but you have to give it props for being so in-your-face about the effects of careless, capitalist consumerism.
Humanity is, in the end, pretty stupid. That might be my self-deprecating Gen Z mindset speaking, but this film really does shock you into the clarity of Earth’s current climate situation at the hands of its fleshy inhabitants – it’s more than likely that at the rate we’re progressing the world is going to end up in a similar state to Wall-E’s wasteland, only without any of the cheery possibility of returning back a few centuries in the future. Because, probably, we’ll all be extinct.
Films and culture in general have such a terrific impact on forming our mindsets and opinions. I’m forever glad that in their own ways these films have helped me to understand the importance of being environmentally friendly, and hope that you, the reader, can emphasise both with my choices and with the wider sentiment of doing our best to keep Earth happy and healthy. Start taking the bus, eat less meat, go no-waste – any and all contributions matter at the end of the day, no matter how small.