The Intersection of Art and Advocacy

The Story of Stuff


The combination of simple black and white animation, and Annie Leonard’s matter-of-fact narrative, deliver concise explanations of critical health and environmental issues. To date, The Story of Stuff Project has produced four short films, with over thirteen million views.

Her first film, The Story of Stuff, tracks the materials economy. From extraction of resources, to final disposal, she poignantly presents the effects of increasing global consumerism amid playful cartoons. The simple drawings are especially effective in delivering an urgency often muddled within the media by subjective economic and environmental statistics.

Discussions about emissions trading aren’t the most convivial, but Annie Leonard’s film about cap and trade is surprisingly entertaining, and highly informative at the same time. The lunacy of purchasing the right to pollute suits the sardonic cartoon format quite nicely.

Animated scientists decked out in requisite goggles and lab coats follow Leonard’s introduction to her latest release, The Story of Cosmetics. The grayscale characters test common products such as baby shampoo, lipstick, and hair conditioner. Their findings, punctuated by punk rock skull-and-crossbone symbols, include carcinogens, neurotoxins, and reproductive toxins known to cause infertility, cancer, learning disabilities, and asthma.

Annie Leonard’s scaled-down, evocative films counter Madison Avenue’s efforts to maintain hyperconsumerism at any cost. Corporate backlash includes a P.R. campaign by the International Bottled Water Association in response to the film, The Story of Bottled Water. From an educator’s perspective, the animated films are the perfect springboards for lessons on critical thinking, persuasive writing, and the effects of advertising. Click here for films, interviews, and teacher resources.

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