Can't stomach another family movie night featuring Hannah Montana or clone troopers? Screen one of these family-friendly movies and your kids won't even realize they're learning something new. All are available on Netflix.com, blockbuster.com, at your local video store or at no cost at your library.
Planet Earth: The Complete BBC Series (2007)
Follow along with three animal families as they endure the ups and downs of a year in the BBC's amazing 11-episode series "Planet Earth," a showcase of worldwide natural wonders. You'll climb the highest mountains alongside snow leopards and plunge into the deepest seas with whale sharks. Head to dsc.discovery.com/convergence/planet-earth/game/game.html to play the related online game, Mission Planet.
Microcosmos (1996; directed by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou; narrated by Kristen Scott Thomas and Jaques Perrin)
Step into the hidden world of bugs, ants and other creepy crawlies. Critically acclaimed for its cinematography, "Microcosmos" is one of the most creative and lyrical documentaries you'll ever see.
IMAX at Home
You don't need a 60- by 80-foot movie screen to bring the excitement and spectacular footage of an IMAX movie into your home. IMAX has released all of its popular documentaries in DVD format. Join an expedition to some of the most biodiverse islands in the world with "Galapagos: IMAX." Hike through one of our nation's true treasures in "Yellowstone: IMAX." Zoom 220 miles above Earth and check into the "International Space Station: IMAX." There are IMAX films to fit your family's interests. Check out the IMAX Ultimate Collection, which contains 20 of the most popular IMAX movies on DVD.
March of the Penguins (2005, directed by Luc Jacquet; narrated by Morgan Freemen)
This award-winning film gifts viewers with a touchingly intimate glimpse into the difficult life of the Emperor Penguin. Witness the perseverance of these tuxedoed penguins as they trek across huge distances to their breeding grounds and protect their tiny hatchlings in the most brutal climate in the world.
Arctic Tale (2007; directed by Adam Raetch and Sarah Robertson; narrated by Queen Latifah and Katrina Agate)
This film tells the story of Nanu, a baby polar bear, and Seelah, a newborn walrus. Follow along as these two amazing animals make it through a precarious infancy and travel into youth. You'll also witness the negative effects of global warming in the surrounding Arctic environment.
Try a world language movie
Rent a foreign flick and host a world movie night. Even beginning readers will be able to catch the subtitles on the movies recommended below.
Step up the festivities by accompanying each movie with snacks or treats from the featured country. For help and ideas, I recommend Kids Around the World Celebrate!: The Best Feasts and Festivals by Lynda Jones and The Kids' Multicultural Cookbook: Food & Fun Around the World by Deanna Cook.
The Way Home (2002; directed by Jeong-hyang Lee; Korean with English subtitles)
When 7-year-old Sang-Woo is sent away to spend summer with his elderly grandmother in the very rural countryside, he is forced to give up not only city life but also TV, video games and Kentucky Fried Chicken. "The Way Home" is a touching movie that will remind children (and adults) that our relationships with those who love us are worth their weight in gold (or Nintendo games).
Children of Heaven (1999, Directed by Majid Majidi; Farsi with English subtitles)
When a young boy accidentally loses his sister's only pair of shoes, the brother-sister pair share the one pair of shoes their poor family can afford. When a school running race promises a new pair of shoes to the fastest student, the boy is determined to win. Minimal dialog and a simple story line make this movie a good pick for beginning readers.
The Red Balloon (1956, but check out the 2008 restoration; directed by Albert Lamorisse; French with English subtitles)
Follow along with a little boy and his red balloon through the streets of Paris in this sweet, beloved movie. This movie is an especially good pick for those kids who can't quite yet read subtitles.