By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Born in China is the 10th film from Walt Disney Studio’s independent film group, Disneynature. These nature documentaries are usually released on Earth Day and Born in China was no different. One of my colleagues, who is not a movie fanatic, actually thought this documentary was about people. That was funny to me, but other Disneynature movies had more obvious animal titles like Monkey Kingdom, Bears, and Chimpanzee. Perhaps Animals in China would have worked better.
Lu Chuan was chosen as the director, as a collaboration between China and Disneynature productions for Born in China. Lu was an interesting choice because he is known for directing many controversial films in China.
“Mountain Patrol” is about animal poaching in Tibet and “City of Life and Death” is a drama about the 1937 Nanjing massacre. As a result of his previous work, Disney thought Lu would capture China’s animals in an authentic and unique way. Lu got to work with producer Roy Conli, who had won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film for Big Hero 6, and Brian Leith, who worked on BBC programs and the Discovery Channel.
Born in China takes the audience to the wildlife of China, where few people have ventured. The advantages of being a co-production was that the Chinese government was willing to give access to remote areas of China. As a result, we are treated to some of the most beautiful landscapes that a tourist in China will never ever see. During the outtakes, we get to witness how much trouble they had to go through to capture the lovely shots we see in the movies. Conli stated, “Shane Moore. who is the cinematographer on the snow leopard unit — first of all, he’s going out to one of the most inhospitable places on this planet. The Qinghai plateau is 16,000 feet above sea level. It’s often below zero. As you can see [in the film,] it’s amazingly rugged and rough hewn out there. He did not get any shots of snow leopards until his 90th day!”
The documentary examines a short segment of the life of three animals. A mother panda, Ya Ya, takes care of her baby cub, Mei Mei, by smothering her with constant love. As the cub grows up, the mother panda starts to give her cub more freedom to explore. In the second story, a golden monkey named Tao Tao leaves his family because he feels neglected by a new baby sister who is getting all the attention. He chooses to live with other monkeys who are deemed outcasts and take care of themselves. Ultimately, Tao Tao will be tested during the cold winter when he must make a decision to migrate with his family or stay with the other outcasts. The last story is about a mother snow leopard, Dawa, who has to feed her two young cubs. This was the most emotional story as a mother struggles desperately to capture prey to survive.
After the movie, don’t forget to stay for the outtakes. There is some fun footage of animals playing with the cameras and crew. You will also get to see firsthand the difficulty of traveling through the terrain to capture the stunning footage featured in Born in China.
Although I could relate to the animals’ struggles, their journeys weren’t quite as exciting as I’d like it to be. I found myself yawning during the second act, but I’m sure kids and animal lovers will have a good time. I was hoping the focus would be on more animals. An epilogue like other biopics and documentaries would have been nice to give closure to the three animal stories.
For those of you who saw the film last weekend, a portion of the box office proceeds go directly to the World Wildlife Fund in protecting pandas and snow leopards. Born in China opened last weekend with $4.9 million and is playing at local theaters.
John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.