“Born in China,” the latest installment in the “Disneynature” documentary series, is “Planet Earth” aimed at younger audiences, but any nature lover can find enjoyment here, especially in the stunning cinematography.
While other installments have focused on specific species and ecosystems, “Born in China,” directed by Lu Chuan, gets up close and personal with some of the unique species found in China — pandas, snow leopards, cranes, Chiru antelope and golden monkeys. Chuan’s team follows these animals through the seasons and the circle of life while incorporating Chinese spiritual beliefs about life and death.
John Krasinski does his best Sir David Attenborough impersonation as the narrator, though he doesn’t achieve Attenborough’s singular mix of gravitas and cheeky wit. Still, Krasinski’s vocal stylings are homey and serviceable.
The footage captured is breathtaking for its access and intimacy to these incredible creatures. A few outtakes during the credits offer a look inside the production process, which involves both stationary secret cameras attached to rocks, as well as production crews trekking into the wilderness to capture images.
The drama captured is remarkable, from a territorial snow leopard standoff to the first steps of a baby panda and the antics of a group of golden monkeys, though it’s clear that some of these interactions have been coaxed together by creative editors for maximum narrative enjoyment. The editors weave stories worthy of any Disney classic — Tao Tao the golden monkey is shunned by his family after the arrival of his baby sister. Dawa the snow leopard hunts ferociously to provide for her cubs, but is it enough? Ya Ya the panda carefully guides her baby, Mei Mei, as the cub grows up.
As deliciously cute as Mei Mei and Ya Ya are, the breakout stars are the golden monkeys. These curious creatures sport bright marigold fur and bluish-gray faces with huge expressive eyes. Their expressions and gestures are startlingly human, and there’s plenty of interpersonal drama to sustain their storyline, as Tao Tao leaves the family fold and returns after saving his baby sister from a hawk.
The Disneynature films strive to educate audiences about the importance of preserving nature. But as a nature film, “Born in China” stays within the confines of its region and topic. From watching the film, one wouldn’t know if these animals were endangered or threatened by man-made development, predators or climate change. The film doesn’t leave the audience with a call to action about how to protect these animals, and that feels like a missed opportunity.
“Born in China”
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