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.
"Born in China"★ ★
Narrated by: John Krasinski
Directed by: Lu Chuan
Other: A Disneynature release. Rated G. 79 minutes
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 (Tibetan antelope), while not as individualized as the main "characters," provides a kind of 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 snub-nosed 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 heartrending moments, though far harsher events can be seen on NatGeo Wild every day.