Born in China

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 21, 2017

Born in China

Celebrate Earth Day with Disneynatures's "Born in China." Like all of the fine documentaries produced by the newest Disney-branded film label, this true life adventure captures remarkable natural footage and crafts it into a charming, palatable story for audiences of all ages.

From the continent's icy, mountain plateaus (a harsh environment where little more than the snow leopard can survive) to the dense forests where pandas eat 40 pounds of bamboo per day, the spectacle of the Chinese wilderness is captured like never before. Director Lu Chuan and editor Matt Meech shape eye-catching footage from areas throughout the vast landscape.

Disneynature's goal is not to give us a standard, scientifically based look at these places almost untouched by humanity. Instead, they use natural footage to tell stories where animals are anthropomorphized with distinctly human problems and (not necessarily credible) emotional reactions.

The main narrative action focuses on three families: A snow leopard who sacrifices everything to keep her cubs alive; a mother panda and her beloved little baby; and a snub-nosed monkey entering adolescence and learning the lessons of independence.

The images in this nature film are beautiful and sensuous - with vivid colors and textures, vast landscapes of rolling mist and flamboyant foliage, a variety of spectacular time-lapses from vistas to budding flowers and intimate close-ups of animal faces.

Themes of Asian philosophy and religion begin early on in the movie with the sighting of red-crowned cranes (a sacred animal that is said to carry the spirits of the departed to the world beyond). But Disney's characteristic focus on love and familial relationships is the real theme that binds the disparate storylines.

Unlike the rest of his team, Chuan is relatively new to the wildlife documentary, his experience being mainly history-based docudrama, action films and some standard documentary.

Barnaby Taylor contributes his extensive experience composing music for nature documentaries to the musical score, which is both majestic and provincial as it recalls Chinese folk music and borrows from some of the instruments native to the region. The goal of this soundtrack is emotional reaction. It comments on the movie's narrative and guides the viewer's response.

John Krasinski supplies the main voice over narration, and this continues the trend of casting an actor who has made a name for him- or herself in television comedy as the voice of the nature epic. (Other narrators have included Tina Fey and Tim Allen.) But Krasinski was far better acting with other people in the American version of "The Office" than he is as this movie's narrator. He's adequate, but he never achieves that blend of goofy playfulness and sober dignity necessary for his role.

One of the most remarkable results of this kind of documentary is the way it draws captivating parallels to the human condition by infusing wildlife with human emotions. Nature is a world of single mothers where females must "take life to give life," and "one mother's brave rescue" is another's loss.

Though the realities of an alpha-male golden snub-nosed monkey and his fertile harem are not exactly true to the story of a monkey prodigal son who returns to his father's fold, in this world timeless human stories supercede natural authenticity. These stories ask the question: "Why shouldn't a family's love determine it's fate?" But they don't attempt to give an easy answer.


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