An almost-mystical approach to the cycle of life and death, Disneynature’s “Born in China” is a beautiful film that was released just in time for Earth Day. Like so many other Disneynature offerings, it will become a favorite of those inclined to share with their families the beautiful parts of the world that should be cherished.
Disney made wonderful “True-Life Adventure” nature movies from 1948-1960, and they are the ancestors of Disneynature films, an independent unit of Walt Disney Studios founded in 2008. This is one of the most gloriously photographed and enjoyable of the series.
The movie, helmed by well-respected Chinese director Chuan Lu, follows the lives of three families of animals: Pandas, snow leopards and golden snub-nosed monkeys. How he and his crew ever got close enough to film the animals so intimately is a mystery (although, during the credits, we see just a little of what the crew endured to get just the perfect shot at the right second).
The movie explains that belief that when a crane flies, it is taking the spirit of a dying creature somewhere to become a newborn. The cranes themselves are simply astonishing to behold, and the concept of the circle of life makes it easier to watch the deaths of several animals. We are reminded, for example, that when a snow leopard catches and kills a kind of antelope called a chiru, she does so to ensure that her own cubs can eat.
The narration is just fine. John Krasinski, recognizable form his lovable character in “The Office,” lends gravity to dramatic situations and levity to some corny lines that are aimed at the littlest children.
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The mother panda, Ya Ya, is shown raising a single cub named Mei Mei. Mei Mei wants to explore and climb trees, but Ya Ya continues to protect her as the cub longs to be on her own.
A young monkey named Tao Tao lives apart from his family until he has a chance to become a hero to his little sister.
The most poignant story is the tale of Dawa, a gorgeous snow leopard who lives with her two cubs on the 14,000-foot-high Tibetan Plateau. She must defend her territory constantly while she struggles to find food.
The visuals include breathtaking environmental shots of mountains and grasslands, all of which add to the splendor of the overall film. It’s appropriate family fare, to be certain, but you don’t need to have a child in tow to enjoy it.