Come take a leisurely stroll over the scenic Chinese countryside in the greatest of comfort—unlike that for the filming crew which lugged their equipment, trudging up and down mountains in all kinds of weather to allow us this indulgence. Disneynature’s Born in China, expertly directed by Chuan Lu and grandly photographed by six artists (Irmin Kerck, Justin Maguire, Shane Moore, Rolf Steinman, and Paul Stewart), is narrated by John Krasinski. The story by a group of writers (David Fowler, Brian Leith, Phil Chapman and Lu) is fascinating in its portrayal of family life—mostly between mothers and newborns—among monkeys, pandas, and snow leopards, with references made to cranes, antelopes, hawks, and yaks.
The endearing parts track the birth of a baby through its first year in three families, showing the instinctive quality of the mother-child bond and the struggles to survive and protect the young in the wild. Mother Panda Ya Ya focuses all her attention on daughter Mei Mei while she feeds on bamboo (40 lbs/day!) and nurses her infant with breast milk. After about six months, we see Mei Mei start the separation process by attempting to climb trees, initially rolling all the way down the hill after which her mother scoops her up and takes her home. When Mei Mei is able to climb the tree high up without falling, the two will separate.
Mother Dawa, an agile and quick snow leopard, lives at 14,000 feet above sea level on the rocky mountains, having her two cubs in a cave, where they will remain until they’re old enough to attempt navigating the rocks and cliffs. Dawa has to defend her territory from predators and then be one herself to get food. She may be challenged by a neighboring leopard whose food supply has become scarce in her own territory and will try to take over Dawa’s.
The third story focuses on Tau Tau, a monkey who was the center of attention in his family—which consists of multiple doting mothers—until his sister is born. He feels he has to resort to joining a tribe of “lost boys” who hang out together with their leader Rooster and get into all sorts of mischief—or just playing the game of jumping on branches and falling to the ground. The drama here is Tau Tau’s evolving relationship with his family, an acceptance/rejection tale that most closely resembles that of a human family.
Filmmakers should be congratulated for incorporating educational material into the script (e.g., Chinese myths associated with cranes and pandas), frankly portraying life and death and linking both to the Circle of Life, and showing the values in appreciating and becoming knowledgeable about the natural world, which includes the humorous aspects of it. Compared to other films, this one is relatively short at 75 minutes, which is exactly right for the kind of film it is. It is idyllic, in a way. When I saw the crystal clear waters, clean air, and fertile earth, I was reminded of the compromises we humans have made in an industrial age.
Revel in the refreshing, natural world of Born in China for relief from contemporary cares and concerns.