One of Walt Disney’s greatest legacies was his ability to bring families together through innovative, groundbreaking ways. Starting in the late 1940s, the True-Life Adventures series of nature documentaries brought the excitement and beauty of wildlife to families across the country. These films were even re-broadcast on television and often shown in schools as part of the regular curriculum (my own father recalls seeing Nature’s Half-Acre in elementary school). This series helped connect families by watching these educational films together and starting the conversation about nature and what we can do to preserve it.
Walt’s dedication to nature lives on through the Disneynature films, a newer series of nature films for the families of today. Disneynature’s Bears, now in theaters, will undoubtedly teach a new generation of audiences about the beauty and importance of nature.
This tradition has played an influential role for many individuals, including Paul Baribault, a Vice President of Marketing with The Walt Disney Studios and a key executive at the company’s Disneynature film label. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with him about how Disney’s dedication to science and nature influenced his own life, as well as how it continues to inspire his work and, more importantly, his role as a father.
How did your love of nature develop throughout your childhood?
I grew up in the outdoors. My family is from Southern California, and we used to go to Angeles Forest and Yosemite as a family. One memory that sticks out is the grandeur of entering the portal and seeing Yosemite National Park, which was stunning to experience for the first time. I still love getting out into nature whenever I can, including going to Mammoth and Laguna Beach.
I also remember seeing the True-Life Adventures series as a kid, when they were part of the Wonderful World of Disney on TV. This was a great opportunity for the family to gather around and see animals in the wild that nobody else had presented you with. Walt Disney was really ahead of his time in so many ways, and this was one amazing example — there was nobody else making wildlife films, and telling the story of animals in nature. Disneynature films continue this legacy, seeking out locations with remarkable animals and stories to share with audiences around the world.
In what ways do you share your love of nature with your family?
I have three daughters: ages 9, 8, and 5. I want to make sure they get to experience the outdoors as well. We try to go to Yosemite at least once a year, about a week at a time. There’s something really special about getting to experience being outdoors together, and seeing the kids grow and develop in that space.
My older daughters are Girl Scouts/Brownies and this has also grown their own interest in nature. They share a love of animal stories, and one of my daughters even wants to be a veterinarian. They are curious about the natural world, and Disneynature’s Bears provides them a way to see that world in a whole new way. As a dad, it is fun for me to see them discover and experience nature through these films.
What can families learn from going to see Disneynature films like Bears?
Disneynature films are a great way for kids to explore parts of the world they would otherwise never get to explore. These films present an opportunity to have a great conversation about the planet and about the animals that inhabit this planet with us. I am always surprised to see that the engagement and conversations that take place, whether prior to or after the movie, is driven by the kids. Kids are the ones giving us the experience. They are raising points and topics they’ve learned in school, or on field trips; the kids are more plugged in than the adults are, sharing knowledge we had no idea they knew. Films create a wonderful opportunity to explore the outdoors and connect with your kids through that theatrical experience, because you are both experiencing it for the first time together.
There are lots of moments in the Disneynature movies where we can connect what these animal families go through to our own experience. It’s great to showcase the fun and challenges that a family faces out in nature, and see the conversation that comes from that.
In addition to their educational value, are there other ways the Disneynature films give back to the environment?
Each Disneynature film contributes to an environmental organization to support strong conservation work related to that movie, based on first-week ticket sales. For Bears, a portion of ticket sales from opening week April 18-24, which coincides with Earth Day as well as National Park Week, will fund the National Park Foundation, the charitable arm of the National Park Service. Bears was actually filmed in Katmai National Park in Alaska. The conservation amount is driven by the audience: The more people who go, the greater impact we can have on our National Parks.
What is so exciting about Bears is that it tells an incredible story about a mom raising her two young cubs out there in the wilds of Alaska. From this film, families will get to share and enjoy the spectacle and grandeur of Alaska, paired with the intimate story of a mother and her cubs from winter through the spring, summer, and fall seasons. What struck everyone during the filming process is how these bears demonstrate personalities of their own, and how wonderful that family relationship is. It’s neat to see this unfold through stories and scenes that are very common to people and everyday life. The animal world has so many relatable dynamics to our own world, and it is great to put these stories on the big screen for Earth Day.