Disneynature's new True Life Adventure film "Born In China" is dead on arrival. Sorry, but I went there, if not dead then its certainly on life support. Let me explain, I grew up learning everything I knew about animals and exotic places by watching films made by Disney. Of course this was way before the internet and a little something called Animal Planet on cable TV. That being said, the bar has been raised higher than “Tinker Bell” can jump on this one. The movie looks beautiful and is narrated by someone famous, but it lacks that magic that would make it a must see, and have, Disney classic.
It took the film team four years to make this movie. It takes you on an epic journey into the wilds of China where few people have ever been. The film takes audiences to some of the most extreme environments on Earth. You get to see some really intimate moments, the kind only seen in a nature film. That alone, made me want to see it. So you can understand my frustration as I sat in the theater checking my watch to see how much longer this was going to take. That does not bode well for a movie with a running time of one hour and sixteen minutes.
Even though we see a few other species in the film such as Cranes and Chiru (or Tibetan antelope) that are human-shy and overly-hunted by poachers, only the animal leads that move the story forward are given names. One nice surprise is the film actually shows a never-before-seen natural event of the birth of a chiru calf.
The story, however, focuses on three species. We have the two-year-old golden snub-nosed monkey named Tao Tao who feels displaced by his new baby sister. A mother snow leopard named Dawa. She’s an elusive animal rarely caught on camera who faces the very real drama of raising her two cubs in one of the harshest and unforgiving environments on the planet. Her story is one of the better ones in this film. And of course we have the ringers of the film, the guaranteed to make you want to hug something fluffy team. They are a panda bear mother named Ya Ya raising her cute baby Mei Mei as she begins to grow up before our very eyes .
The movie starts us in spring and takes us thru summer, fall, winter and back into spring again. We’re introduced to the animals as the camera flies around the stunning, never-before-seen imagery of China’s vast terrain. We see the mellow life of the pandas and the crazy and funny antics of the monkey family. There is also life and death footage as the snow leopard hunts to feed her cubs.
**Spoiler Alert** Ok so you know this is a Disney movie right, and I joked with my brother who went to see it with me before it started, “Please, please don’t be like Bambi and kill anyone’s mother.” Well, I won’t tell you which one takes the dirt nap but let's just say not everyone that has been named lives to see the new spring.
That being said, know that if you take a child under the age of say nine, you will be having to console them during and after the film. That was one of the issues I had with this film. Death is a part of the circle of life but the way they presented it here was very heavy handed and lacked the finesse that usually comes from a Disney product.
“Born In China” does takes us from the frigid mountains to the heart of the bamboo forest—on the wings of red-crowned cranes, unevenly tying the lead animals’ stories together.
Bottom line, wait to see this film at the dollar cinema or when it hits the on demand line up. It doesn’t say much for a film when the best parts were the out takes of how the film crew made the movie and how the monkeys kept messing with all the gear.
Directed by Chuan Lu
Written By David Fowler, Brian Leith, Phil Chapman, Chaun Lu
Running time 76 min
Wide release is April 21st 2017
Starring the voices of: John Krasinski and Xun Zhou