Shaping Youth Teen Team Reflects On Disneynature EARTH Premiere

disney-earthApril 22, 2009 Talk about a ‘circle of life.’ Disneynature, the first film label to be released by Disney in 60 years, truly DOES represent a full rotation of EARTH, by going back to their studio roots of documenting extraordinary wonders rather than ‘imagineering’ them all themselves.

Sounds as refreshingly authentic as a Susan Boyle discovery, with high profit potential via comparative low cost production…

But will authentic reality ‘sell’ to a generation of kids raised on ‘entertain me’ frivolity and fun?

Shaping Youth’s teen and tween team were asked this very question, honored to hit the red carpet premiere of Earth on Saturday April 18th, at Hollywood’s historic El Capitan Theatre event along with some of the Disney channel stars and their families…

This is the first in a series of ‘life through the lens of regular kids’, as we chose NOT to focus on our green teen eco-crew who we took to the Inconvenient Truth premiere, because they’re pre-disposed to nature and eco-positive lifestyles.

It seemed important to pluck a few of the more commercialized kids (including an 11-year old Disney devotee still reeling from the VMK closing) to get a bead on how nature’s own ‘reality show’ would fare amidst the contrived ‘reality’ show genre kids today are so used to.

Are kids’ coping skills resilient enough to handle REAL nature?


Are youth desensitized to sex and violence yet troubled by ‘G’ movie real life fare?

Can we help ‘save the earth’ by seeing Earth through the lens of these Emmy award-winning directors of Planet Earth?

My commentary can wait, I want you to hear from the kids, firsthand.

We’ll be doing more chats with eco-moms and exit polls during the whole Earth week regalia, since Disney will plant a tree for every ticket sold opening week and we want to support that endeavor to the max!

Meanwhile, here’s a summary of what four (ages 11-14) of our seven S.Y. attendees had to say…

Shaping Youth: How much did you know about Earth before you were invited, and did it live up to all the marketing?

LS: (Age 11) It’s been all over the Disney channel and I KNEW I wanted to see it. Maybe not as much as The Hannah Montana Movie which I already saw first, but yes it was as good as they say.

It was soooooo beautiful but parts of it made me really sad, so I think I’ll tell my friends to get ready for it and that it’s not all happy like the commercials; especially the animal chases and slow motion like the wolf and the caribou.

The Disney ads are all about ‘three animal families,’ so kids could be surprised.

earth4KB: (Age 13) The movie was amazing and goes far beyond three families. There were lots of parts showing the circle of life and that animals do get eaten, they aren’t in little happy la-la land, it’s all about survival.

I felt sorry for the one kid crying so loud in the theater, and couldn’t figure out why the parent didn’t leave…so yah, she’s right, it’s NOT like the Disney commercials. You feel like you’re in an Imax movie too…which might be overwhelming to littler kids who only saw the ‘happy scenes’ on TV… like the polar bear cubs popping up from the den, flowers blooming, the baby duck jumping out of the tree…Even the scene where the baby elephant bumps into the back of the mama in the herd looks funny in the ad, but in the MOVIE you find out it’s because he was blinded in a sandstorm and fighting for survival.

Disney could go many ways with the film. They could use it to get attention and sell more polar bear plushies or they could really be turning over a new leaf and trying to start a healthy generation of kids that are more informed about what is going on in the world and what we can do to stop it.

earth3CH: (Age 14) Well, it’s a documentary, so I already knew it wouldn’t be all Disney-ish; that’s why they call it a documentary!

My parents take me to see all the docs like ‘Religulous’, Sicko, Word Play, SuperSize Me …Actually, I’m not a big fan of documentaries, so I wasn’t really dying to see it, and was more excited about the red carpet event at first…(seeing Hector Elizondo from Princess Diaries and some of the Suite Life cast was fun!)

I think Disney did a REALLY great job making it work for kids by following a movie plot line to tell the story so it’s not like boring dry facts or basic reduce, reuse, recycle themes.

They used the three story arcs to get to the point of how all the animal families are struggling with changes in our environment…humans too. (AJ note: yes, she did use the word ‘story arc’ her mom is a scriptwriter and copywriter)

CM: (Age 14) We have five kids in our family from pre-school to high school and ALL of them would love it, but I think maybe it should be PG for my 5 –year old sister because I’m 14 and still can’t get that scene with the lion hanging on the back of the elephant out of my mind.

Shaping Youth: Going beyond the obvious eco-stewardship message, what other scenes stuck in your mind as life lessons from the animal kingdom?

tigerKB (13): There’s safety in numbers… surrounding the smallest so they won’t be easy prey and sticking together reminds me of middle school!

Watching the way the herds protect their young reminds me of families; even like parents giving young kids cellphones to try to keep in touch for safety. The idea that wandering off on your own can make you an easy target is a lot like real life too.

Even though the movie set up the night scene with warning music and saying how lions have better eyesight than the elephants, and the way they all roar at once to say ‘go’ seeing those 30 lions attack that one big elephant was really hard. Just goes to show it doesn’t matter how big you are, you’re still vulnerable.

lionsOh! And when they showed the lions and elephants sharing the same water hole by day even though they’re enemies? That made me think about humans and how we probably couldn’t do that. I don’t see humans sharing much; we compete for resources and turf rather than share it…we should be more like lions and elephants.

CH: (14) I like the bird mating dance with the fluff of the feathers…that was hilarious and also pretty true! It added humor, like the baby ducks jumping from their tree nest into the leaves…I didn’t even know ducks nested in trees! That ‘leap of faith’ part had a bigger meaning and also when the birds were trying to make it over the Himalayas and had to turn back and keep trying again and again…

CM:(14) Animal families have a lot in common with humans…sometimes one strays out of the pack and searches and searches on its own and eventually finds its way back to the family. Sometimes they go off course and into no man’s land and the consequences unfold a lot like in nature…

whalesLS: (11) Life lesson? Probably team work…I learned how whales make a bubble net to catch krill in a big gulp and how important moms are to baby animals’ survival, like when the whales slap the water so they can hear each other nearby and not get lost in the rough ocean…How the moms keep track of them over that looooong swim…how the walrus’ teamed up to protect the babies and the poor tired polar bear dad starved.

As an ice skater it’s hard to imagine what the Arctic would be like with too much heat and only THIN ice…long tracking and swims. It was so sad seeing the polar bear weak and then hurt…he just curled up in a ball and died all alone.


I’m a ‘fishtarian’ —I won’t eat any fish because they’re my friends, but I really wish the polar bear could’ve found some fish for food…

The undersea world and ice and water is ALL really special to me…

I got to help at the Paint with Wyland children’s event in Long Beach and I’m going to try to be one a tween helper when I’m older. It’s important to volunteer and do what we can because it makes me feel good and learn more. We all need to take care of each other, there’s only so much to go around…

Shaping Youth: Pretend you were the movie director, and you could add or subtract key elements of the film to make it appeal even more to kids…

What would you do and how would you mobilize kids to take eco-actions right this very minute?

disney-greenCH (14): I think Disney is doing this already with the ‘buy a ticket plant a tree’ promotion …

I don’t know how many people know about it, because I don’t watch the Disney channel much anymore.

Maybe they could plant them for longer than a week? A month or more?

I know there were posters all over Downtown Disney when we visited, and I’m definitely going to tell all my friends to go see it that first week to take advantage of the offer because if everyone did that worldwide and Disney really delivered on it, that’s a lot of trees!

(AJ note: Disney conservation reported well over half a million trees in advance ticket sales already, so with the massive Disney distribution channel they could make inroads globally much like the ColaLife campaign being proposed to deliver medicine via the soda giant.)

LS: (11) It would be great to give kids a way they could make a difference in person, like I got to do with the local Wyland event. Some kids won’t know where to start…Save energy, recycle…but how does it help the animals directly?

earth2I really liked the fast-forward parts where you see the growing and greening over a year…But I don’t like the slow-motion sadness, so maybe get rid of that and add more bloopers too…Like during the credits when the film crew ran into a tree in their hot air balloon!

KB: (13) I’d do more about the whales being poached instead of just the migration; same with the elephants. HUMANS are the biggest dangers to ALL of these animals, and they don’t really give enough clear ‘what you can do’ steps to stop it. Maybe Disney could use the end credits to show kids taking actions or making changes in their own lives to get kids started with ideas.

CM: (14) I’d definitely add some lighter notes…like I said, my little sister would freak about some of the saddest parts because it’s all so real. Bambi was sad, but seeing it for REAL really stays with you without animation. That polar bear dad really got to me too…Kids would like ways to help solve problems so we don’t feel hopeless.

Shaping Youth: Is Disney part of the solution or part of the problem? Do you have any ideas for Disney to make the world a better place? What do you think of them as a company—do they walk the walk in consumption and ‘less is more’ eco-thinking?

CM: (14) I think they definitely need to tie the products they sell into donations to the wildlife with this film or it’s all hypocritical. I think it showed the materials were made from recyclable fabric for the products or whatever, but they need to pass that money forward if they’re going to be all like ‘we’re Disney, we’re nature.”

hollywood-048LS: (11) I think the store said if you spent a certain amount you’d get 20% off and a little tree or something…I think we need to think harder about what we want.

My mom makes me wait now when I want to spend my own money so she says I have to take a business card from the place when I see something I like, and then think about it for awhile. My birthday is next week when I turn 12 and she keeps telling me that again and again.

KB: (13) If I were Disney, I’d do a big recycled ‘outgrowns’ event and have all those little grown-up princess people bring in their costumes and toys in a big free-for-all exchange, like a swap meet. That way:

recycle2.jpgThings get handed down to littler kids, parents get rid of junk. Disney gets to give away tickets to the film or other ‘tween’ stuff like Hannah Montana movie tickets or CDs or whatever to ‘recycle’ to the older kids…Everyone’s happy!

Maybe even do an older kid/younger kid storytime or peer to peer mentoring thing…Like an ebay for Disney only held locally for a fun event that says ‘recycle.’

I’m pretty sure they were offering tees made from plastic water bottles or some recycling program of tote bags to offset the goods. They produce a huge amount of excess and needless stuff, so it would be a great way to show they care and change the way they make their products, too.

plantabillionCH: (14) I guess I feel like every bit counts and at least they’re doing something!

They have a lot of power and the fact that they’re doing the Plant a Billion Trees project is lots of money that other companies aren’t spending, so I respect that.

I know they’ve got big goals like Walmart Green did (my mom worked for them for awhile) so I hope they make all their packaging and parts eco-friendly too…Disney is supposed to be greening their parks with environmentally friendly cleaning, supplies and all that, but I admit, I really didn’t pay much attention to it when I was there, because it’s spring break and I was there to have fun so…um…I didn’t really notice, sorry.

Shaping Youth: Your favorite moments of your entire trip? Final sign-offs? Random thoughts?

KB: (13) I want to apply to be a Polar Bears International adventurer. I don’t know if Disney is involved, but I learned about it in Elf Island with the tundra buggy.  The highlight for me was definitely the film. Hollywood and the heat and traffic accidents definitely added to the point of the movie for me. All I wanted to do was get to the beach and in the water.

hollywood-052 It was fun meeting  Debby Ryan and some of the Suite Life cast though, and seeing how the red carpet works with all the cameras and paparazzi. One thing I noticed is all of the stars and celebrities are a lot shorter than they appear on camera!

LS: (11) I was the youngest but I still knew more  about the stars and who’s who, and all about Disney so everyone had to keep asking me everything. The guy from Dancing with the Stars was sitting in front of us. No one knew his name…it’s Tony and he dances with Melissa now. (AJ: She was like a walking encyclopedia of Disney devotion; very thankful to have her with us!)

hollywood-061I also liked having lunch next to Mr. Wyland and talking to him a lot…he’s a nice guy, and he made me laugh calling it “Hollyweird.”

The free popcorn in the recycled tubs was a good souvenir idea with the MySpace Our Planet book, but my mom won’t let me get a MySpace. ‘Ever’ she says. (AJ: Ah, the irony, as soon as Lara said this I looked down at the name of the book) “Change is Possible”

CH:(14) The whole Earth premiere was a highlight; such a great opportunity to really BE there and be a part of it all…I’ll definitely see it again and tell everyone at school. We also took time to check out the names on the Hollywood walk of fame, saw the handprints and footprints in cement, and went to the Kodak Theatre where the Academy Awards are held and took part of a tour…

Did you know that people are like props, all dressed in tuxes and gowns to replace the stars that have to go to the bathroom backstage? We also learned that the people given Honorary Awards sit on the side balconies so they can get to the stage faster.

hollywood-078The stars coming on to the red carpet from fuel cell cars were cool…That would be pretty lame if they came in limos or Hummers, you know? It was a nice touch for energy efficiency. (GM I think)

CM (14): I’d say Arwin was a highlight! Camille and I both like the Arwin guy on The Suite Life so it was fun to see that he was just there like an ordinary person; stars are just regular people with families trying to go see a movie!

And there you have it…

A few of our teens/tweens with eco-personas all over the board. More from yours truly and the Shaping Youth analysis of some from other corridors in point/counterpoint style soon…Quick reminder that we’re NOT a review site, you can visit Common Sense Media for that feedback.

Shaping Youth is a nonprofit that looks at worldviews from a media and marketing perspective to see how to use the power of media for positive change and change the channel of influence to a healthier frequency…

We hunt down genuine nuggets of worthy media and use them as megaphones for the masses…Find out what’s greenworthy vs. greenwashing…And where we can turn up the media volume on the good stuff to be heard over the cacophony of crud that’s pummeling youth mindshare.

disney-earth-daySo far, from what I’m seeing with Disney’s new Nature division and their five year goals to go green…there’s opportunity here to attract big talent and turn this tanker around.

Time will tell…

Happy Earth Day everyone.

Here’s to uniting forces from all walks of life to impart a message of sustainability, hope and promise for a brighter planet and mindful population. Encore, Disneynature!

Nice to see those Disney nature roots spring up again and flourish to plant new ideas with the next generation. A long overdue wake up to stay close to the land, and grounded on Earth.

Disneynature Earth Trailer

Press Release from Business Wire Below:

“PASADENA, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Disney Store North America unveiled its comprehensive lineup of Earth Day activities and promotions designed to educate families about the impact they make by recycling and provide everyone with the opportunity to engage in replanting an endangered rainforest through The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees Campaign. These initiatives build on The Walt Disney Company’s recently announced long-term environmental goals to reduce emissions, waste, electricity and fuel use, as well as the company’s impact on water and ecosystems.

To add to the Earth Day celebration, Disney Store will also introduce an exclusive assortment of environmentally friendly tee shirts and tote bags made from Sustainable Solutions Group’s RETHINK fabric, a new textile created from recycled water bottles.”

“Disney Store’s Earth Day 2009 participation continues Disney’s long-term commitment to protecting the environment,” said Jim Fielding, President, Disney Store Worldwide. “From merchandise made from recycled and organic materials to projects to promote environmental awareness with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Nature Conservancy, Disney Store is proud to help bring attention to preserving this magical place in which we live.”

“Disney Store’s Earth Day 2009 celebration will include:”

  • Plant a Billion Trees Campaign:Disney Store and Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy have planted one tree to match the number of earth friendly reusable tote bags that have been produced; these bags are available for purchase at Disney Store locations nationwide. Disney Store donated 96,000 trees (one for each tote bag) to help The Nature Conservancy reach its goal of planting a billion trees by 2015 in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, one of the world’s most endangered rainforests. The tote bags feature a special Earth Day design, are made from 100 percent recycled materials and retail for an SRP of $2.50 each. Please visit to learn more. Disney Store in the United Kingdom recently joined forces with local charity the Woodland Trust to create “the Magical Wood,” a 50 acre site which will be replanted through in-store fundraising efforts, and Disney Store locations throughout the continent of Europe will be planting trees locally, making this a truly global campaign.
  • Recycling is Magic: Plastic Bottle Recycling Campaign (April 22, Earth Day): According to the Web site, “In 2006, Americans drank about 167 bottles of water each but only recycled an average of 23 percent. That leaves 38 billion water bottles in landfills.” On April 22, 2009, Disney Store locations nationwide will host a plastic bottle recycling program called “Recycling is Magic.” To help educate children on the benefits of recycling, Disney Store is inviting everyone to bring in empty plastic bottles and toss them into a unique recycling bin. On April 22, while supplies last, guests can exchange three empty bottles for a free commemorative Earth Day reusable water bottle, an approximate value of $8.50.
  • Earth Friendly Products –Three Plastic Bottles Equal One Magical Tee Shirt: Families will get a first-hand look at how recycling is a magical process when they see Disney Store’s new earth friendly tees (SRP $12.50 for kids and SRP $16.50 for adults) and totes (SRP $19.50) made from RETHINK fabric from Sustainable Solutions Group. To make the fabric, plastic water bottles are cleaned, smashed, recycled and combined with cotton or other materials, turning what was once waste into something useful. The soft, wrinkle resistant shirts and durable tote bag feature an exclusive Disney Store Mother Earth design. Each shirt also features a label letting the consumer know exactly how many bottles were used to manufacture it. Disney Store’s other earth friendly products include adult and children’s tee shirts made from organic cotton (SRP $12.50 – $16.50), stainless steel, reusable water bottles (SRP $12.50), organic cotton gardening aprons for adult (SRP $39.50) and kids (SRP $29.50), and refillable ceramic mugs (SRP $10.50).
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America Earth Day Murals: Beginning April 13, 2009, special Earth Day murals designed by local children participating in Boys & Girls Clubs of America will be on display in Disney Store windows nationwide. Disney Store donated all the art supplies, instructions and recycled paper to Boys & Girls Clubs across the country. With the help of Disney VoluntEARS, the children will decorate squares of recycled paper that will be collected and assembled in 4 by 6 foot murals in Disney Store windows. The artwork will celebrate what Earth Day means to kids in their community.

About The Nature Conservancy: The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

About The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund: The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) is an awards program focused on the study and protection of the world’s wildlife and ecosystems, involving communities and addressing human needs. The DWCF has taken Walt Disney’s legacy across the globe with $12 million in grants to more than 750 conservation programs in 110 countries. The DWCF is funded by Disney and donations from guests of Walt Disney World Resort (including Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park), Disney Vacation Club and Disney Cruise Line.

About Sustainable Solutions Group (SSG): Based in Seattle, SSG is at the forefront of the green movement. Its core business is the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of apparel, textiles and related products utilizing RETHINK Fabrics™ which include: recycled plastic bottles (Recycled PET), bamboo, Charcoal bamboo, cotton and other eco-friendly materials in the manufacturing process. Its mission statement is: “To serve the growing demand of eco-conscious consumers, through efficient and intelligent use of the Earth’s limited resources by bringing sustainable products from a niche business into mainstream.

Visual Credits: Wyland group photo: Jeff Gritchen, Long Beach Press Telegram; Disneynature Earth site, mouse ears/bush:

Special thanks: To publicist Elaine Lazelle, who arranged for our team to attend the premiere. (no quid pro quo, EVER, as you can see by the mixed reactions and candor from the kids; more on my end of the mktg. analysis soon!)



  1. Hi, good post. I have been pondering this topic,so thanks for posting. I’ll certainly be subscribing to your blog.

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