Born in China Lures Kids with Cute, Gets Them to Care
Disney. You can’t see the D-word without thinking also of animals, can you? From animated fare (Bambi to The Lion King), live-action (That Darn Cat! to Secretariat), and scripted documentaries (The Yellowstone Cubs to Born in China), the mouse house was built on animal appeal and generations of fans are still first in line to see the newest offering.
The aforementioned Born in China is the ticket now, perfectly timed for Spring Break and Earth Day in the U.S. (it’s already out in China, and has brought in a whopping 64.9 million at the box-office so far).
In a refreshingly classic presentation (it’s not in bombastic 3D or eye-numbing IMAX) Born in China follows the suspenseful adventures of three animal families — the adorable black and white panda, the clever golden monkey, and the majestic tawny snow leopard. Featuring stunning imagery, the film navigates the vast terrain from the frigid mountains to the heart of the bamboo forest, showcasing intimate moments captured on film for “the first time ever.” (Or so they say — it is true that the film crew spent several months camping in remote regions most folks forego because of the danger and isolation.)
The stories are as old as time. Mommies and babies bonding, playing, in peril, fighting to survive, and ultimately (in most cases) beating the odds to repeat the cycle. Just because the stories shown are tried and true doesn’t mean they’re any less spectacular or gripping.
The chronicles intersect between the three completely disparate species: Panda Ya Ya and her cub Mei Mei provide almost un-“bear”-able cuteness. Ya Ya is a first-time mom but she is super-attentive and affectionate. Most of the time the pair is in harmony, as they lounge around doing nothing but eating pretty much all the time (40 pounds of bamboo is the average daily intake). However, as Mei Mei gets older and stronger, her curiosity emerges and she starts exploring, sometimes putting herself in harm’s way.
Nearby, a troop of golden snub-nosed monkeys in the dense mountain forests forage for food and vie for top spot in the pecking order. This segment of the tale follows Tao Tao, an adolescent male who’s forced out of his family unit and made to fend for himself. He joins an all-male sub-group called the “Lost Boys” but the confused, banished primate makes a few attempts to return to his original fold before finally accepting his fate. The monkeys provide plenty of clowning and lighthearted scenes of play and joy. (Tao Tao encountering snowfall for the first time is comedic gold!)
The most riveting account unfolds thousands of miles away on the highlands of the Tibetan Plateau, where a rare, endangered snow leopard called Dawa raises her two tiny cubs in some of the bleakest conditions on the planet. Alone, she hunts wild goats, fleet-footed mountain sheep and combative yaks. (The kittens are too young to help, and dad is out of the picture.) She is successful, but she has fierce competition from other snow leopards, each more hungry than the last. At first, Dawa is triumphant when a rival cat comes on the scene to challenge her. The two ferocious felines square off, snarling gnashing teeth, until the rival turns tail. But later, when that same interloper returns, now with her three adult sons, it’s a tense and unpredictable situation. What will happen to Dawa’s cubs if she’s hurt, or even killed by this trio of thugs?
John Krasinski (best known for his stint on the TV comedy series “The Office”) narrates the doc, providing a vocal tour of the remote reaches of the Middle Kingdom and giving story structure to the animals’ trials and tribulations. He does the best he can with a rather jokey and sometimes silly script, but those who grew up on the rich, warm cowboy voice of famed Disney doc narrator Rex Allen, or those who enjoy Morgan Freeman’s dulcet timbre, will probably find Krasinski lacking. (Since the story is about moms, a female voice would have been a better choice for storytelling.)
This family-friendly film drives home some good messages on courage and love, but there are some intense scenes – Tao Tao’s helpful baby sister being swept up by a hawk, for one – which may frighten smaller kids. Overall, it’s worth a few tears to learn about these incredible, endangered animals and to see their natural, unspoiled home in all its glory.
What’s more, seeing Born in China with your children is a good way to open up a dialogue about China, since so much of what we see and hear about it is strictly political. The movie, directed by Lu Chuan, is produced by Disney's Roy Conli, and renowned British nature filmmakers Brian Leith and Phil Chapman. This is a great example of America, Britain and China collaborating on something positive.
See Born in China opening week and Disney will make a donation in your honor to World Wildlife Fund to benefit wild pandas and snow leopards. It’s in theaters Friday, April 20, 2017.
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Tags : film movies documentary