Elic­its awe and, as you’d ex­pect, awws

The Washington Post - - MOVIES - BY JANE HORWITZ goin­gout­guide@wash­post.com

With “Born in China,” Dis­ney­na­ture con­tin­ues its tra­di­tion of as­crib­ing hu­man traits and emo­tions to wild crea­tures in ways that flirt with ar­ti­fi­cial­ity. Yet the doc­u­men­tary does man­age to elicit a viewer’s awe and touch the heart. The “stars” of the film in­clude an adorable panda cub bond­ing with her mom, a frisky ado­les­cent mon­key in need of friends and a snow leop­ard strug­gling to pro­vide for her cubs.

The Chi­nese-Amer­i­can co-pro­duc­tion was gor­geously shot over three years by five dif­fer­ent na­ture cin­e­matog­ra­phers and di­rected by Chi­nese film­maker Lu Chuan.

Partly due to the film’s brief hour-and-a-quar­ter length, some scenes seem overly com­pressed and edited to cre­ate both high drama and low com­edy. At least ac­tor John Krasin­ski brings an easy, low-key delivery to the of­ten florid nar­ra­tion.

The fea­tured an­i­mals were filmed in re­mote and breath­tak­ing Chi­nese wilder­nesses and na­ture pre­serves, lo­cales high­lighted briefly on a map early in the film. Ad­di­tional footage of red-crowned cranes, the iconic birds of so much Chi­nese art, and a herd of mi­grat­ing fe­male chiru (or Ti­betan an­te­lope), while not as in­di­vid­u­al­ized as the main “char­ac­ters,” pro­vides a glue be­tween the film’s ever-shift­ing scenes among its star crea­tures.

The gi­ant panda Ya Ya is a “he­li­copter mom” to her cud­dly cub Mei Mei, who keeps try­ing to climb trees be­fore she’s ready. Tao Tao, the ado­les­cent golden snub­nosed mon­key, is frozen out by his own par­ents af­ter his baby sis­ter is born, so he hangs — lit­er­ally — with a mis­chievous gang of other teens. And the strik­ing snow leop­ard, Dawa, strug­gles to feed her cubs in the face of a ter­ri­to­rial ri­val and even prey an­i­mals who fight back.

If you take an­i­mal-loving lit­tle ones to the G-rated “Born in China,” know that there are a cou­ple of gore-free, yet still in­tense and po­ten­tially heart-rend­ing mo­ments, though far harsher events can be seen on NatGeo Wild ev­ery day.

G. At area the­aters. Con­tains a few dis­turb­ing but non-graphic scenes of an­i­mals fight­ing and, in one case, sus­tain­ing po­ten­tially mor­tal in­juries. 79 min­utes.

BEN WAL­LIS/WALT DIS­NEY CO./DIS­NEY­NA­TURE

Pan­das: They’re just like us! Ya Ya, her baby Mei Mei and the other stars of this na­ture doc­u­men­tary are given the an­thro­po­mor­phic treat­ment, but the breath­tak­ing wilder­ness is still a high­light.

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