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posted: 4/21/2017 6:00 AM

Disneynature's beautiful 'Born in China' elicits awe -- and awwwwws

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  • Video: "Born in China" trailer

  • The panda cub Mei Mei is one of the animal "stars" of "Born in China."

    The panda cub Mei Mei is one of the animal "stars" of "Born in China."

By Jane Horwitz
The Washington Post

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 (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.

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