“Born in China” is the latest installment in the Disneynature documentary series. It’s “Planet Earth” aimed at younger audiences, but any nature lover can find enjoyment here, especially in the stunning cinematography.
While other installments have focused on specific species and ecosystems, “Born in China,” directed by Lu Chuan, gets up close and personal with some of the unique species found in China — pandas, snow leopards, cranes, Chiru antelope and golden monkeys. Chuan’s team follows these incredible animals while incorporating Chinese spiritual beliefs about life and death.
John Krasinski does his best Sir David Attenborough as the narrator, though he doesn’t achieve that singular mix of gravitas and cheeky wit that the “Life” and “Planet Earth” legend brings to those classic nature documentaries. Krasinski’s vocal stylings are perfectly homey and serviceable for the task of guiding us through the lives of these special animals.
The footage captured is breathtaking for its access and intimacy to these incredible creatures. A few outtakes during the credits offer a look inside the production process, which involves stationary secret cameras and production crews trekking into the wilderness. The small taste of behind-the-scenes information is so fascinating that you’d almost want to watch an entire documentary just about this process.
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The editors weave stories worthy of any Disney classic — Tao Tao the golden monkey is shunned by his family after the arrival of his baby sister. Dawa the snow leopard hunts ferociously to provide for her cubs, but is it enough? Ya Ya the panda carefully guides her baby, Mei Mei, through the process of growing up.
As deliciously cute and cuddly as Mei Mei and Ya Ya are, the breakout stars are the golden monkeys. These curious creatures sport bright marigold fur and bluish-gray faces with huge eyes. Their expressions and gestures are startlingly human, and there’s plenty of interpersonal and group drama to sustain their storyline.
Disneynature films are always released close to Earth Day and strive to educate audiences about the importance of preserving nature. But from watching “Born in China,” one wouldn’t know if these animals were endangered. It doesn’t leave the audience with a call to action, and that feels like a missed opportunity.