The Daily’s Terra-ific watches for Earth Day

April 23, 2024, 1:32 a.m.

April 22 marks Earth Day, a celebration of environmental awareness and a reminder of the duty to protect Earth’s resources for future generations. The Daily asked our writers to recommend media (movie and television) that encourage environmental messages or implore viewers to protect the Earth.

“Princess Mononoke” (1997) — Emma Kexin Wang

Studio Ghibli’s environmentalist classic, “Princess Mononoke,” follows a wounded prince Ashitaka as he journeys to find a magical cure, during which he encounters a town attempting to kill the neighboring forest gods. Caught in this struggle between industrialization and the preservation of nature and tradition, Ashitaka falls in love with San, a human girl raised by wolves and a protector of the forest. 

What I appreciate most about this film is that, like most Ghibli storylines, it creates nuance in a discussion that can easily turn black and white. The leader of Iron Town, Lady Eboshi, is depicted as an irreverent technologically-driven industrialist, but at the same time, her relationship with the women in the town is deeply touching. Though foregrounding environmentalist problems, “Princess Mononoke” doesn’t simply provide the completely nihilistic reading of human behavior that often accompanies these types of films. 

“Dinosaur Train” (2009-2021) — Dan Kubota 

Every Saturday morning, my sister and I would wake up bright and early to catch the greatest that PBS Kids had to offer, the peak of computer animated cinematic greatness, “Dinosaur Train.” The show follows a Pteranodon family and their adoptive T-rex brother, Buddy (my favorite), on their everyday adventures through the Mesezoic era. To a kid who created dinosaur figurines from vibrant green Safeway twist-ties and Starburst wrappers, it was everything. 

Seeing the Pteranodon family’s eagerness to learn more about the different dinosaurs from each time period sparked in me a desire to learn more about the time period I was living in through careful observation (toilet paper roll binoculars) and documentation (crayon drawings) of my surroundings. It’s fascinating how a show like “Dinosaur Train” can lead to a full blown love for your planet, being frustrated that other people don’t seem to care about climate change the way you do and then doing something about it. There is something really quite beautiful about the way that our favorite childhood shows, as silly as they may seem, can change the trajectory of our lives.

“Solaris” (1972) — Olena Bogdan 

We all long for things that are no longer within reach. This poignant sense of loss, of missing the irreplaceable, haunts the protagonist of Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.” The protagonist, a psychologist, leaves his home planet and his aging father to evaluate the members of a scientific expedition orbiting a newly-discovered planet. Still, his excitement is overshadowed by a preemptive nostalgia and sadness. 

This film is a true ode to Earth, contrasting lush meadows and the serene symphonies of birdsong with the stark, cold emptiness of alien landscapes. Bach’s Choral Prelude in F Minor amplifies the profound sense of incommensurable loss. And after watching “Solaris,” you cannot get over this feeling of nostalgia and the sense of urgency to fight for a future here on Earth. This film inspires a profound appreciation for Earth, encouraging us to embrace and savor nature — ridiculouslly hug the trees and gaze joyfully at the sky — while we still have the chance.

“Crikey! It’s the Irwins” (2018-2022) — Cameron Duran

This charming reality series follows the Irwin family — mom Terri, daughter Bindi and son Robert — through their exciting day-to-day adventures at the sprawling Australia Zoo. The family’s enthusiastic appreciation for animals is contagious as they marvel over each creature in the zoo’s exhibits, as well as those they encounter in the wildlife hospital and out on rescue operations. 

From thrilling crocodile tackles to awe-inspiring giraffe births, there’s never a dull moment in the four-season series. Yet what’s most memorable isn’t the spectacle, but the extraordinary care the Irwins and other zoo employees show for all members of the animal kingdom. Their positivity, humor and ability to share knowledge in an engaging and accessible way make it easy to fall in love with the series. “Crikey! It’s the Irwins” is the perfect heartwarming show to bring the Australian sun to a rainy day in your dorm room.

“Chimpanzees” (2012) — Adam Golomb

Chimpanzees will always be a mind-bending species to me. Their movements and actions oscillate between identical to humans and deeply animalistic and primal. After thinking about chimps for too long I always yearn to consider our role within the natural animal kingdom. 

“Chimpanzees” shattered my perception of animals. The documentary chronicles Oscar, an infant orphan chimp, as he is adopted by one of the alpha apes as a rival group approaches. I never thought I could get that emotional over apes, but little Oscar desperately seeking a new parental figure is a moving scene that reflects the humanity of the animal world. The film does a wonderful job showing how apes, too, can be emotionally vulnerable and seek family. I found deep appreciation for our primate cousins and their created worlds through “Chimpanzees” — I urge you all to watch.

“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” (2015) — Grace Zhou

One of the greatest airplane experiences I’ve ever had was watching “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” during my 2016 flight to China. Spoilers for the first film: they made it out of the maze! The thrill of watching Thomas and his comrades escape a government teen-testing facility and hightail it across a scorching desert in this little-anticipated sequel, I can honestly say, wasn’t dampened one bit by the postcard-size backseat screen and shoddy airplane earphones I viewed it with. 

Before the story began, apocalyptic solar flares burned Earth into a wasteland. To keep resources under control for humanity’s survival, scientists attempted to curtail the human population and released a dangerous virus that transformed most humans into savage murderers. Between the breathless chase sequences and thrown-in-there-yet-totally-fun love triangle, I barely had time to reflect upon the subtle metaphors and references to global warming. I was far too entertained by Dylan O’Brien’s near-death experiences (and the silly “WICKED” acronym for the film’s evil scientists). But the film’s vision of a post-apocalyptic desert world where climate change threatens human survival — and even scientists turn against people — has left an indelible mark on my psyche. To be clear, no one is confusing “The Maze Runner 2” for a brilliant work of climate activism, but this dystopian teen movie did manage to stoke a fire within me.

Emma Kexin Wang '24 is a Arts & Life staff writer, and Screen columnist for vol. 264 and vol. 265. She greatly enjoys horror and Ghibli movies. Contact her at ekwang 'at' Bogdan is a predoctoral research fellow in finance at Stanford GSB. If you have questions or ideas for an article, please contact her at [email protected]Cameron Duran '24 is a vol. 265 Arts & Life Managing Editor. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ Golomb '27 writes for Arts & Life. He loves kayaking, hummus, and being in the Sun.

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