Beginning in 1948, Walt Disney began producing the first of his thirteen True Life Adventure motion pictures, pioneering the documentation of wildlife and recognizing not only its educational, but entertainment value. Continuing in that tradition, Disneynature was formed in April 2008, and has produced Earth, Oceans, African Cats, Bears, Monkey Kingdom, Chimpanzee, and now Born in China.
Prepared for a parade of cute, cuddly animals, I was. (I lost count of the number of “oohs” and “awwws” coming from the audience.) Expecting an exclusive window into sections of the largest continent, into areas I never knew existed, I was not. Let me share with you nature-lovers the three wild surprises I found in Disneynature’s Born in China.
China is breathtaking. Its terrain is diverse, and some of the footage reminds me of our Pacific Northwest. The Walt Disney Studios president, Alan Bergman, was correct when saying, “most people will never have the opportunity to experience this wild, mysterious, and beautiful side of China.” In the vast western territories, this untouched terrain is where the film is documented. From the Wolong National Nature Reserve in the Si Chuan province (pandas), to the Hubei Shennongjia National Nature Reserve along the Yangtze River (golden snub-nosed monkeys), and finally to the rim of the Tibetan plateau in the Qinghai Province (snow leopards), the lens exposes us to areas of the world that many across the globe have never seen nor even knew existed. Adorable baby animals aside, the Chinese geography is stunning.
Again, I feel very naive and completely uneducated. After decades of exposure to scenes of Chinese smog, grime, and gross overcrowding, I had no idea that huge swaths of the country consisted of pristine landscapes. The film shows us global images of light sources across China, and it appears that as much as one-third of the country is completed unwired and unspoiled. Even filmmaker Brian Leith remarked, “we were fascinated by these vast areas of wilderness in a country known more for the number of people who live there.”
Filming began without a script. Makes sense for a nature film, no? Despite that, I was struck by the narrative that the filmmakers were able to craft merely by screening the abundance of film shot in China. Somewhere along the line, these animals became characters; compelling, and captivating actors in this one hour and nineteen minute movie. I hope they were all awarded a SAG card upon wrap!! Watch and tell me if you agree:
What is NOT a surprise to me is Disney’s commitment to wildlife and its preservation. (Any fan of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park in Orlando knows that the conservation theme is ever-present in this brand’s offerings.) These films bring that same level of responsibility to its audience and society.
** Ticket sales from Born in China in its opening week (April 21-27, 2017) will benefit the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and in turn, help protect wild pandas and snow leopards in China.
Would I recommend this movie? Yes. If you are desperately in need of some nature therapy (as most of us seem to be at present), or if you can’t get enough of adorable fur babies, go. Or, if you missed the section on Chinese geography when in school (as I clearly did), go and be amazed. However, I will share the following warnings. Nature is beautiful, and powerful, and raw, and cruel. I personally do not think that young children will be comfortable with some of the true life hunting and predatory behaviors illustrated on the big screen. Likewise, even older children should be prepared for the “circle of life” that the film depicts; in this movie, life and nature’s harshest realities do not come with an endearing musical score. For the rest of us, this is just what we need, just when we need it. This Earth Day, get out and see the world. Put Born in China on your calendar!