The bear ne­ces­si­ties

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - ENTERTAINMENT - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­night@postmedia.com twit­ter.com/chrisknight­film

Born in China (out of 5) Di­rec­tor: Chuan Lu Star­ring: Mon­keys and leop­ards and the voice of John Krasinksi Run­ning time: 1 hour 16 min­utes

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!).

Dis­ney na­ture 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 voiceovers 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 Krasinksi.

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 how­did-they-do-that shots, given how shy and reclu­sive pan­das and snow leop­ards are. And while I’m guess­ing (hop­ing) that the lo­cal yakherders got com­pen­sa­tion when the leop­ard tried to snatch one of their an­i­mals, for the most part the footage doesn’t look as though it has 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.

And while Born in China may dou­ble down on the cute­ness fac­tor, it’s also likely to in­spire cu­rios­ity and con­ser­va­tion in its young tar­get au­di­ence.

As no doubt 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.

SUP­PLIED PHOTO

A mother panda and her cub are seen in Born in China. Dis­ney found a bal­ance be­tween science and en­ter­tain­ment with the film, which show­cases the lives of an­i­mals liv­ing in China.

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