As a result of the social distancing and self-isolation measures put in place in March, most of us have been spending a lot more time at home—which means coming up with creative, relaxing, or productive activities that don’t involve going out. Streaming movies is one good option, but it’s even better if they inspire you to take action for animals—because we could all use a little inspiration right about now.
Streaming animal-friendly movies can come in handy beyond filling your spare time, though. As many schools have shifted to entirely virtual teaching environments, educators have had to keep up with the changing times and move their classes and curricula to online formats. Using movies as part of a lesson plan on animal rights is an entertaining and effective way to keep students engaged from home while also instilling compassion for animals.
Whether you’re looking for a compassion-promoting and educational film to watch on a night off or you’re on the hunt for something to share with your students, look no further—we’ve got you covered. And all the animal-friendly films on this list are available to stream online immediately, either for free or on one or more popular subscription sites, so start browsing! (If you don’t have the streaming service on which a movie is available, you can often rent it online through Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, or other services.)
Note for teachers: As always, use your own discretion when sharing any content with your students. You know them better than we do, so while we offer suggestions for grade-level suitability based on ratings and subject matter, we also recommend checking these films out for yourself before presenting them to a class.
If you’d like to engage students further after screening any of the films below, work with the general discussion questions at the end of each section (or use your own unique variations on them). Using follow-up questions as a written assignment or as part of a group discussion can encourage students to think critically about the film’s plot, themes, or purpose as they relate to animal rights and help them better comprehend the material.
Read on to find the best animal-friendly movies that are streaming right now so you can enjoy them on your own or with your students.
Family Movies for Younger Children
The following films, almost all of which are animated, are great for younger kids, as they have underlying themes of compassion for animals without too much tension or violence. Recommended for grades K–6.
Babe: This cute movie investigates the rights, emotions, and sensitivities of animals while questioning why humans love some animals but slaughter others. Stream it on HBO NOW. (Rated G)
Bambi: This movie highlights the many interesting animals who live in the forest and reveals in a kid-friendly way how devastating some actions taken by humans—like hunting—can be for others. Stream it on Disney+. (Rated G)
Charlotte’s Web: Here’s another movie that highlights what a pig has to do in order to avoid being slaughtered. Like Babe, this adaptation of E.B. White’s classic children’s novel questions why humans love some animals but slaughter others. Stream it on Hulu. (Rated G)
Chicken Run: Claymation chickens fight to escape from the prison-like farm where they’re destined to be killed. Stream it on Hulu. (Rated G)
Finding Nemo: This movie shows how similar other animals are to humans. It lets us know that fish have feelings and want to live in nature with their families, not swimming in circles inside a tank or killed for food. Stream it on Disney+. (Rated G)
Free Willy: This family-friendly classic is about a boy fighting to free an orca from captivity and give him a better life. Stream it on Hulu. (Rated PG)
Happy Feet: Mumble the penguin is considered the odd one out by his family because he can’t sing like the rest of the penguins—but he still wants to be with them in nature instead of stuck inside a small tank with nothing to do. Stream it on Vudu. (Rated PG)
The Secret Life of Pets: This fun animated film is, in part, about the sorts of things homeless animals resort to when they have to look out for themselves. It can help you teach students the important message that animals should be adopted rather than purchased from a pet store or a breeder. Stream it on Netflix. (Rated G)
Spirit—Stallion of the Cimarron: In this Oscar-nominated animated film, Spirit is a mustang who gets wrangled by horse-herders trying to “break him” so that they can ride him and use him in other ways. It can help kids understand that horses have feelings and wants. Stream it on Hulu. (Rated G)
- What is the main message of the movie? Do you agree or disagree with it?
- What is the relationship between the human and animal characters in the film?
- Were any animal characters treated poorly by others in the film? Give one example, and explain how the character(s) should have been treated instead.
- Can you name three qualities that one of the animal characters in the film shares with members of their species in real life?
- What feelings, needs, or wants do you have in common with animal characters in the film? Give three examples.
Family Movies for Older Students
The following films are animal-friendly and deal directly with animal rights issues through their storylines. They deal with more mature themes and are rated for older viewers. Recommended for grades 7–12.
Legally Blonde 2: When Elle Woods learns that the mother of her beloved Chihuahua is trapped in a cruel laboratory, she goes to Washington, D.C., to fight the animal experimentation industry. Stream it on Hulu. (Rated PG-13)
Okja: Jake Gyllenhaal plays a deranged zookeeper in Okja, which has been referred to as “the world’s first vegetarian action movie.” Stream it on Netflix. (Rated R)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes: This sci-fi gem looks at the horrors of animal experimentation, the exotic-pet trade, and the suffering of wild animals in captivity. Stream it on Hulu. (Rated PG-13)
- What is the relationship between humans and animals in this film? Describe at least one positive and one negative relationship or dynamic.
- What was the main source of conflict or tension throughout the film?
- Even though the animal characters in (some of) the film(s) were personified to take on some human qualities, they retain some animal characteristics. Which qualities do the animal characters possess that are also shared by members of their species in real life?
- How does this film relate to animal rights? Were the animal characters in the film treated fairly?
- After viewing this film, do you feel that animals deserve rights? Cite details from the film to support your view.
Animal Rights Documentaries
The following films are all documentaries covering different aspects of the animal rights movement. Most deal with more mature topics and themes and are rated for older viewers. Therefore, it’s suggested that you watch these on your own or share them with students in higher grades. Recommended for grades 7–12.
The Animal People: PETA supporter Joaquin Phoenix is the executive producer of this film, which tells the true story of six animal activists who were targeted by the FBI for exposing one of the world’s largest animal-testing labs. Stream it on Netflix. (Not Rated)
Blackfish: This documentary made international headlines for its gripping investigation into the death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau and SeaWorld’s systemic abuse of orcas and other marine mammals. Stream it on Hulu. (Rated PG-13)
Breaking the Chain: This exceptional documentary introduces some of the dogs, cats, and others caught in the national companion animal neglect and overpopulation crisis. You’ll also meet PETA’s dedicated fieldworkers, who respond to calls for help around the clock and in all weather extremes. Stream it on Amazon Prime or VUDU. (Not Rated)
The Cove: This Oscar-winning film turns a critical eye on dolphin-hunting traditions and investigates the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Stream it on STARZ. (Rated PG-13)
The Elephant in the Living Room: This is a fascinating documentary about a subculture of Americans who keep exotic animals captive and the law-enforcement authorities who deal with these cases. Stream it on Hulu, Sling TV, STARZ, or Vudu. (Rated PG)
Seaspiracy: This documentary exposes the commercial fishing industry’s harmful practices and highlights the pressing need to protect marine animals and the ocean. Director Ali Tabrizi uncovers the nearly unfathomable extent of the global fishing industry’s destruction and the shocking ways governments and environmental groups are complicit. Seaspiracy is a compelling story that reveals one essential thing that we can all do to save the ocean and the animals who call it home. Stream it on Netflix. (Rated TV-14)
Tyke Elephant Outlaw: Twenty-six years ago, an elephant named Tyke—who could no longer take the abuse that she experienced in the circus—crushed her trainer and escaped from a Honolulu arena. This riveting documentary tells her story. Stream it on Netflix. (Not Rated)
Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered: This hard-hitting documentary calls out the Canadian facility for its duplicitous claims, conflicts of interest, and culpability in beluga mortality. Stream it for free on YouTube. (Not Rated)
- What do you think was the filmmakers’ purpose for making this film?
- Describe three things that you learned about animals or animal rights by watching the film.
- What emotions did you feel while watching it? Describe the scenes that evoked each emotion.
- Did your view of any topics change after viewing it? Why or why not?
- This film addresses animal exploitation. What industries does it target? How do you think these industries should change to address the issues raised in the film?
Clean Up Your Lifestyle: Go Vegan
Whether you’re talking to your students about the benefits of vegan eating and the environmental havoc that animal agriculture wreaks or just looking to learn a little more about vegan living during your spare time, look no further than these compelling, fact-filled documentaries. Recommended for grades 7–12.
The Beautiful Truth: This documentary takes a fascinating look at a man who goes on a cross-country journey to learn about Gerson Therapy, a plant-based therapy that proposes a dietary cure for cancer. Stream it for free on YouTube. (Not Rated)
COWSPIRACY—The Sustainability Secret: Leonardo DiCaprio is the executive producer of this documentary, which takes on the meat industry—the most environmentally destructive force on the planet today. Stream it on Netflix. (Not Rated)
Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead: This inspirational documentary starts with a road trip across the U.S. to spread the word about juicing and then turns its focus on an overweight truck driver and his subsequent journey to lose weight by drinking fruit and vegetable juices. Stream it for free on YouTube. (Not Rated)
Fed Up: This documentary explains that at the rate at which Americans are currently eating, one out of every three will have diabetes by 2050. It focuses on the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and the negative effects of fast food and sugar. Stream it for free on YouTube. (Rated PG)
Forks Over Knives: This documentary examines the connection between diet and most diseases of affluence and how they can be controlled or even reversed by eating plant-based food. Stream it on Netflix. (Rated PG)
Food, Inc.: This movie takes an in-depth look at America’s food production and the corporations that prioritize profits over welfare and health. Stream it on Hulu. (Rated PG)
The Game Changers: Ultimate Fighting Championship winner and military combat instructor James Wilks embarks on “a quest for the truth” that puts him in touch with top athletes and experts around the world who reveal that the best way to excel in sports—and life in general—is to eat plant-based foods. Stream it on Netflix. (Not Rated)
What the Health: The filmmakers behind the popular documentary Cowspiracy expose a side of the food industry that contributes to and profits from a health epidemic. Stream it on Netflix. (Not Rated)
Also check out Veganflix, a website that curates videos on justice for animals and vegan living.
- What do you think was the filmmakers’ purpose for making this film?
- What are some of the benefits of eating plant-based or vegan? Describe at least three health- or environment-related benefits that you learned about from the film.
- How does the film address the treatment of animals in the food industry?
- Did your view of plant-based food or vegan living change after viewing it? Why or why not?
- How do you think the food industry or individuals should change to address the issues raised in the film?
Viewer Discretion Advised
These last couple of films are both quite graphic and violent in their own ways. One is an actual horror movie, and the other is a documentary proving that for animals, reality is horrific enough. Watch them if you’re looking for a hefty dose of animal rights.
Earthlings: Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, this extremely moving documentary explores major industries and the ways in which they use and abuse animals. Stream it for free on the film’s website. (Not Rated)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: One of the earliest and nastiest looks at meat-eating in modern society, this horror film put humans in the slaughterhouse—and the genre was never the same again. Stream it on Tubi. (Rated R)
As some U.S. schools have shifted to an entirely virtual teaching environment, we know that humane educators can use all the free resources, tips, and tools they can get—and TeachKind has got you covered with lots of online lesson plans, distance-learning tools, and free classroom materials: