Journey to Planet Earth
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this PBS documentary series explores global issues related to the environment and the world's peoples. Topics can be alarming, like "Will we have enough food and water to feed the world's growing population?" And some of the data shared -- such as the fact that 25 square miles of Louisiana coastline disappear each year due to the consequences of global warming -- can be chilling. Footage of houses being swept away in floods and young children scavenging for food in the trash might disturb some kid viewers. That said, the show does make an effort to include positive news and optimistic pronouncements along with the dire ones.
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What's the Story?
JOURNEY TO PLANET EARTH takes an interdisciplinary approach to exploring issues like global warming, toxic pollution, economic disparities, and population explosions (sometimes making its points by using frankly scary images and facts). Narrated by Matt Damon, each episode travels around the world to places like Zimbabwe and Chicago, drawing connections between conditions in both developed and developing countries and shows how certain issues affect everyone -- regardless of geographic location or economic status. That said, the target audience is obviously westerners, who might not feel a connection to starving families affected by drought in Africa, but who might empathize with a Texan farmer who watches as his grapefruit trees are ripped out of the ground because there's not enough water to irrigate them. Interviews with experts from think tanks, non-profit organizations, and universities and a few well-chosen regular folks buttress gorgeous footage of the land and its people. Damon's clear, slow narration helps create segues between topics, as do specific questions and phrases written on the screen.
Is It Any Good?
While all of the topics the series tackles are of immense importance, Journey to Planet Earth suffers from a touch of melodrama and a slightly patronizing tone when talking about people in developing countries. As one episode ends, Damon speaks over the image of a giraffe grazing: "In the end, what we want is for first light to still reveal the rich tapestry of the natural world" -- the screen then shows the smiling face of a young African boy -- "and every child born into poverty to share the same dreams we in the west so often take for granted."
Teens and tweens interested in environmental issues, animals, farming, and poverty (and Matt Damon) will find plenty of educational material backed by beautiful footage. But parents may want to caution younger viewers against taking a patronizing attitude toward people in developing countries and emphasize the steps these people have taken to improve their own condition.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about activism. What makes someone an activist? What is the media's role in spreading messages related to specific causes? What point(s) is this series trying to make? What do you think producers want the show to accomplish? What issue or issues do you feel strongly about? What got you interested in that topic -- TV, a celebrity, a movie, hearing people talk about it? How can you make a difference in that area?
- Premiere date: April 6, 1999
- Cast: Matt Damon
- Network: PBS
- Genre: Educational
- Topics: Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- TV rating: TV-G
- Last updated: March 1, 2022
Our Editors Recommend
Stunning high-def series spotlights world wonders.
Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Adventures
Ocean adventures and research; great for kids.
Big Ideas for a Small Planet
Hip docuseries sells viewers on environmentalism.
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