Back in February, I begrudgingly got up, packed my suitcase, and was out the door at 7am. I’m so not a morning person but I couldn’t really complain.
It’s like the trifecta right there. My love of three things all rolled into one: Disney, animals, and China.
Although I visited China over 10 years ago, my travels kept me on the eastern side where most of the populous cities are. But venturing west into more remote regions takes you into a natural paradise complete with China’s most lovable creature, the panda bear.
But there’s more to China’s wildlife than just pandas.
Born in China is an intimate look at three animal families and the interactions among the members: panda bears, golden snub-nosed monkeys, and snow leopards.
The film itself is stunning with cinematography ranging from the frigid mountains to the heart of the bamboo forest. What makes it more remarkable is knowing what it took to get these images. Many of these animals live in very remote areas that aren’t easily accessed.
I had a chance to talk with producer Roy Conli about the challenges of the making of this film. Each camera crew was tasked with filming these animal families during all four seasons. That meant a lot of travel back and forth (China limits the amount of consecutive time you spend in the country), a wide variety of weather conditions (sometimes all in the same day), and the logistics of setting up cameras that don’t obstruct nature but are still able to capture it.
What I really wanted to know about was the story.
When I watch a Disneynature film, I can’t help but think of the 1963 Disney classic, The Incredible Journey. It’s a narrated film showing the adventures of three pets, two dogs and a cat, as they venture 250 miles to get back home. There’s danger! And close calls! And comic relief! And just when you think they’ll never be reunited, it has a nice, neat, happy ending.
It makes me wonder how much modern day nature stories are manipulated so I asked Roy Conli the question. What dictates the story of the film? Is it clever editing to craft a story that doesn’t exist? Is there a script to follow? Is it totally a work of fiction?
It turns out that Born in China, like all of the other Disneynature films, is rooted in natural, undisturbed animal behavior. The cinematographers are merely observers who do their best to blend into the background and capture footage that’s never typically seen by the human eye.
Once the filming was completed, the story naturally unfolded for each family. And yes, there still was danger, close calls, and comic relief. But nature doesn’t always provide a nice, neat, happy ending.
We all know nature can be brutal and Disney does a fine job of staying true to the animals without subjecting us to anything that would make us cringe.
But I must warn you. Parts of the ending are sad.
I tell you that not to keep you away from the film but to be prepared with tissues (if you’re a total softie like me) and to discuss it with your kids.
As director Lu Chuan puts it, “It is a story of life and death. In China, death is not the end of life. It’s another beginning. Wildlife has many beginnings, and we wanted to explore that in the movie. I want to help audiences around the world better understand this philosophy.”
Moviegoers who see Disneynature’s new True Life Adventure “Born in China” during its opening week (April 21-27,
2017) will benefit the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Based on opening-week attendance, Disneynature, via the Disney
Worldwide Conservation Fund, will make a contribution to the WWF to help protect wild pandas and snow leopards.
Recommended for: Families, especially with children 5 and older
Discussion points: Be prepared to talk about the circle of life and being observers of nature.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars; Beautifully filmed and narrated, this is a film for everyone.