I’ve never reviewed a documentary before, so this will be interesting. Born in China is the latest installment in the Disneynature franchise, a series of short films that are basically kid-friendly versions of what National Geographic used to do: educate and entertain with nature. Predictably, these flicks are released on Earth Day, reminding us of the beautiful planet we’re in the midst of destroying.

            Here, we get to see a side of China I wish was shown more. The lush mountains and sleek jungles are far apart from our image of the mainland as the pollution country. But director Lu Chuan does more than give us shots of nature that could end up as screensavers; he tells the story of three distinct animals. Dawa (a snow leopard), Tao Tao (a golden monkey) and Ya Ya (a panda), all experiencing various problems.

            Dawa is chased off of her land and how has to fend for herself and her cubs. Tao Tao is dejected because his sister is getting all the attention, and thus joins a rogue group of monkeys. Ya Ya is teaching her child Mei Mei to climb a tree, but knows that once her baby can, it will be mature enough to leave her.

            These are all complex tales deserving of their own Disney cartoon; somehow Chuan makes them all work using live footage. The editing is superb enough to make you think somebody was in all the right spots to get the best shots. That’s usually the highest technical compliment you can pay a documentary.

            Despite its educational nature, Disney still wants this to move you. Familiar themes of life, survival, love, family and death are all over this. Tense fight scenes are handled without showing the blood and guts.  The narration over the animal’s movements is so smooth you’d swear Chuan was directing them himself. This film is proof that real life is often more compelling than fiction.

            John Krasinski (The Office) narrates here, his smooth and whimsical voice keeping this a light but instructional affair. The kind of narration Disney likes.

            This is meant to be a cutesy film. There’s enough adorable pandas munching on bamboo to get the appropriate awwws, and some goofy moments to make you laugh. The intended audience here is children, but adults can at least watch this and get nice tour of a foreign land.

            But expect to be bored at some parts. Born In China’s story telling is technically impressive, but also very simple. Outside of a decidedly depressing ending for one of the characters, you can guess what will happen every single time. I was guilty of checking my phone throughout, wondering when this would be over. You can only see beautiful vistas so many times before it becomes redundant.

            A much more interesting segment actually took place during the credits, which was a behind-the-scenes look into how the movie was made. Maybe I’m just a film nerd (or a journalist), but I liked seeing how these beautiful shots were composed.  It sounds like a backhanded compliment (it’s not), but the credits were one of the best parts of the picture.

            At the very least, see this if you wanna keep the kids quiet for an hour, or if you love technically beautiful movies.


Published by Jagger Czajka