Disney doc takes realistic view of nature in China
Born in China takes loving, but realistic, look at nature
Nature documentaries can take one of three main paths when showing us adorable animals in gorgeous natural environments: science (learn about me!), conservation (save me!) or entertainment (love me!).
Disneynature productions started off in the science camp (Earth and Oceans, narrated by James Earl Jones and Pierce Brosnan), swung too far into entertainment (Chimpanzee and Bears, with dreadful, simpering voice-overs by Tim Allen and John C. Reilly) and now seem to have found a fine balance in Born in China, a co-production with Shanghai Media Group, and narrated (in its North American release) by John Krasinski.
The film divides its kid-friendly 76 minutes among five groups of animals: a troupe of golden snubnosed monkeys; a mother panda and her newborn cub; a herd of Tibetan antelope (or chiru antelope to use their more Sinotolerable name); a female snow leopard raising two cubs; and a flock of red-crowned cranes, who have to compete against cute mammals and thus get the least screen time.
Certain themes emerge from the footage, lovingly shot by director Chuan Lu and his team of cinematographers. (Stay during the closing credits to meet some of them in outtake footage.) Motherhood is hard, but so is growing up and striking out on your own.
Reproduction and death are a necessary part of the circle of life (yes, the film uses the phrase), but both are presented with enough circumspection that your own cubs won’t be unduly ruffled.
The musical choices are often spot-on — nothing backs a wobbly baby antelope like a glockenspiel — and there are numerous how-did-they-do-that shots, given how shy and reclusive pandas and snow leopards are. And while I’m guessing (hoping) that the local yak herders got compensation when the leopard tried to snatch one of their animals, for the most part the footage doesn’t look as though it’s been set up.
The difficulty of getting wilderness footage might even be why the film is a year late coming to cinemas. Disney had planned a release for Earth Day 2016, but held off until this Earth Day, which falls just after the film’s April 21 release.
Born in China may double down on the cuteness factor, but it’s also likely to inspire curiosity and conservation in its young target audience. As no doubt so will Dolphins, due out in a year’s time and advertised in a trailer that will play before the main feature.
The circle of filmic life continues.
Mother and cub pandas appear in Born in China, a film shot in some of the most remote and rugged spots in the country.