Venturing into the wilds of China, "Born in China" captures intimate moments with a panda bear and her growing cub, a young golden monkey who feels displaced by his baby sister, and a mother snow leopard struggling to raise her two cubs.
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Narrated by John Krasinski ("13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi," NBC's "The Office," "Amazon's "Jack Ryan"), Disneynature's new True Life Adventure film "Born In China" takes an epic journey into the wilds of China where few people have ever ventured. Following the stories of three animal families, the film transports audiences to some of the most extreme environments on Earth to witness some of the most intimate moments ever captured in a nature film. A doting panda bear mother guides her growing baby as she begins to explore and seek independence. A two-year-old golden snub-nosed monkey who feels displaced by his new baby sister joins up with a group of free-spirited outcasts. And a mother snow leopard-an elusive animal rarely caught on camera-faces the very real drama of raising her two cubs in one of the harshest and most unforgiving environments on the planet. Featuring stunning, never-before-seen imagery, the film navigates China's vast terrain-from the frigid mountains ... Written by
"Born in China" is a wonderfully shot, well-edited and important nature documentary.
Few people think about The Walt Disney Company in these terms, but Disney has a long history of nature conservation and it's a growing point of emphasis for the entertainment conglomerate as the 2017 feature-length documentary "Born in China" (G, 1:16) illustrates in a several ways. Since 1998, the zoological theme park, "Disney's Animal Kingdom" in Orlando, Florida, has been educating visitors about nature, while taking care of a number of wild animals and working to conserve various species. But even before that, Disney was raising awareness of nature conservation issues by doing what they do best making movies. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Walt Disney Studios produced fourteen "True-Life Adventures" nature films, which won eight Academy Awards, including three Oscars in the Best Documentary Feature category. Inspired by the success of the French-made 2005 Oscar-winning documentary feature "The March of the Penguins", Disney created an independent film unit called Disneynature, headquartered in Paris and established on April 21, 2008 (the day before Earth Day). After such successes as "Earth", "Oceans", "African Cats", "Chimpanzee" and "Monkey Kingdom", "Born in China" is the 10th nature documentary produced by Disneynature. That movie was produced in conjunction with China's Shanghai Media Group, just the latest example of the growing cooperation between the American and Chinese film industries, and the documentary was released in U.S. theaters on April 21, 2017, the day before Earth Day, and the ninth anniversary of the founding of Disneynature.
"Born in China" is narrated (in its English-language version) by actor John Krasinski (and in its Chinese-language version by award-winning Chinese actress Xun Zhou). The film follows four specific family units of different animal species in remote western China over the period of about one year, while also highlighting some of the other animal and bird species in that region. The movie opens with some footage of red-crowned cranes which, according to Chinese folklore, transport the souls of other animals every time the majestic birds take flight. Then, the action turns to those four animal families in their natural habitats, interacting with each other and with other furry and feathered creatures, while negotiating and surviving in the midst of the harsh and unforgiving terrain and weather conditions in which they live. And all the while, there is nary a homo sapien in sight until the film's closing credits.
Those four animal families on which the film focuses include pandas, monkeys, leopards and the Tibetan antelope known as chiru. That last animal receives the least attention in the film (except for the few bird species which make limited appearances), but we do see the birth of a baby chiru which immediately begins bonding with its mother, quickly learns to walk and eventually joins the heard on the long trek back to the male chiru from which the females had been separated for a time. Most of the film centers on specific animals from those other three species, alternating between them and telling their stories, with a scientifically-based, but distinctly human and sometimes whimsical interpretation of their lives.
The viewer revisits each animal family several times throughout the movie, learning their routines and following the journey of their lives, while enjoying personalizations of a few specific characters. We meet a golden snub-nose monkey called Tao Tao (unclear whether that's his real name or his stage name) who is two years old and seems to be jealous of the attention that his newborn sister receives from their mother. Tao Tao leaves his family for a while and hangs with a group of single male monkeys whom the narrator refers to as "the lost boys", but Tao Tao is torn between that group and his actual family. A female snow leopard named Dawa lives up in the mountains and struggles to provide food for her two young cubs as other snow leopards wander into her territory, making Dawa's hunts all the more challenging and dangerous. Likely to be the favorite family for most Movie Fans is the giant panda mother, YaYa and her baby, Mei Mei (playing themselves throughout the movie). As Mei Mei (pronounced "My My" by the narrator) is practically smothered with love and affection by her mother, she explores the world around her and gains skills which cause her to need her mother less and less over time. With all of this film's animals and birds, the major themes are family, growth and the circle of life.
"Born in China" is a wonderfully shot, well-edited and important nature documentary. Writers David Fowler, Brian Leith, Phil Chapman and Chuan Lu (who also directs) give us a good balance of animal science, natural drama and the "awwww" factor. John Krasinski does a solid but unremarkable job of telling these animal families' stories. The cinematography (which was painstakingly gathered, as we learn from short "making of" scenes during the closing credits) is gorgeous and rare in terms of its quality and content, which has seldom (if ever) been seen before on the big screen. Although there are some mildly upsetting (but brief and basically bloodless) moments of animals and birds gathering food in front of the camera, the movie mostly fosters joy, awe and an increased appreciation of the beauty and value of undisturbed nature. I have to say that I enjoyed 2015's "Monkey Kingdom" more, but this movie is impactful in its own ways. Besides merely entertaining audiences, "Born in China" furthers Disney's conservation priorities by raising money for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US) and offering resources for educators and activity packets for kids on its website (nature.disney.com/born-in-china) for free. This is a great family film which will entertain almost any Movie Fan and help the magnificent creatures portrayed. "A-"
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