‘Born in China’ is more than a documentary

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If you’re a sucker for YouTube videos of the cutest animals ever, this is for you. More than a documentary, Disney Nature’s “Born in China” is a true-life adventure film that transports nature lovers on an epic journey deep into the wilds of China. Disney delivers an overwhelming experience reminiscent of the award winning BBC TV series “Planet Earth,” that was eventually made into the 90-minute feature film, “Earth” (2006).

Best seen on the big screen, a rousing musical score adds to the breathtaking Chinese scenery, from the expansive plains to majestic mountains. In this land of myth and mystery, few people have ever ventured. Narrator John Krasinski (“The Office”) tells us of three animal families surviving in some of the most extreme environments on earth.

It would be enough to present this magnificent never-before-seen imagery straight up. But, as presented so well in “Meerkat Manor,” a team of writers assigns human names, traits and emotions to the critters, so we can identify with their curious lives, which might not be so different than our own. Perfectly narrated by Krasinski, he explains their daily lives and even what they might be thinking as they play, struggle and socialize.

Ya Ya is a giant panda doting over her playful, but clumsy cub, determined to explore their bamboo forest and exert her own independence. For some, the entire film could just focus what might be the cutest animals ever. Tao Tao is a two year-old mischievous golden snub-nosed monkey. With his unique color and markings, this breed is one of the most gorgeous and unique of the primates.

Tao Tao feels displaced after the birth of his baby sister. Seemingly rejected by his family, he joins a group of “Lost Boys” who “monkey around” all day without a care in the world. Finally, Dawa, the rare and gorgeous snow leopard struggles in the chill of her harsh rugged habitat to fend for her cubs against threatening predators.

Chinese director Chuan Lu brilliantly captures the most exquisite and elusive animals ever seen on film. In order to do so, he also captures some of the most remarkable and unforgiving terrain on the planet. As shown during the credits, cinematographers experimented with long lens close ups, time lapsed photography, ever-changing lighting and even more extreme changes in the weather, to provide a visual extravaganza.

The film perfectly captures the enchantment and exhilaration of nature that most of us had never seen before. It’s a spectacular highlight reel that captures our hearts as we get to know these creatures. Via breathtaking close-ups, we see them for who they are and where they live their daily lives, in what seems to be the edge of the world.

Not unlike ourselves, we better understand their love, loss and hope, which are also our basic societal values. We are in awe of the physical adaptability of such rare species in ostensibly unforgiving climates and rugged settings. We learn so much, but it still provides more questions than answers, but hopefully that’s the intent.

Wisely choosing not to involve itself in spiritual or political leanings, the overpowering display of nature questions their origins and the capabilities of our planet to sustain them. Prior to the start of the film, the Disney Conservation Fund is referenced.

“Born in China” is 79 minutes and rated G. It is suitable for animal lovers of any age, other than the youngest tikes possibly shaken by some animal violence. Beginning with the soaring splendor of red-crowned cranes, the film also follows the migration of Chiru sheep, a fly-by capture from a menacing Goshawk and the leisurely life of the Yak.

The film allows audiences to witness the most intimate moments ever captured in a nature film, including the importance of family and power of selfless maternal love. The emotionally challenging scenes are sensitively done, so everyone can learn that nature is more than a tight shot of a cuddly panda. It so caringly completes the circle of life, you could almost hear that song resonate across the vast Chinese landscape.

Ron’s Rating: B Leigh’s Rating: A-

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Ron & Leigh Martel