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.
A.R. LaValle says
Personally, I think it was not just an unforgivable CRIME, but an absolute sin and a shame to have allowed an ENDANGERED big cat like Dawa to be killed as you looked on. The cameramen, as far as I and my family are concerned, were (as human beings charged with protecting this world and its wildlife) RESPONSIBLE for the deaths of not ONE beautiful Snow Leopard, but THREE. And that’s three PLUS any Dawa would have had after her cubs grew up and left her care to claim their own territories. Not to even mention the cubs they well may have had.
This idiotic notion that mankind should not interfere in these situations involving endangered species is unforgivable, irresponsible and unbelievably horrid. WHO else is there to protect them?! No one. Obviously. Those cubs should have been searched for, found and PROTECTED. At least they could have carried Dawa’s soul on and given parts of it to her heirs. I do not doubt for even a split second that they survived and it makes me sick to my very core. I, like MANY who watched an otherwise beautiful documentary, sat there in disbelief at the irresponsibility of those who filmed and whomever else as a representative of China may have been there, DID NOTHING. I do not cry much anymore, over anything, since loosing one of my sons two years ago…but this incredible lack of responsibility brought me to tears. Nothing ANYONE could EVER say, not even apologies, would change the way my heart has hardened toward “humanity”…we do not deserve the beauty of this world when we do nothing to right a wrong, interfere at the RIGHT time and PROTECT what is entrusted to us…ignorant “man”kind….
Yes, please let us know if you find out what happened to Dawa’s cubs. I can’t seem to find anything online.
J. Tsai says
According to the director, the cubs are ok:
“I’m not a professional teacher or psychologist. But I think this is a good opportunity for kids to understand the truth of life and nature. We were subtle in the way we showed the potentially upsetting scenes. I’ve watched the film with audiences of middle school students and they really enjoyed it. I think they appreciated the chance to witness the tragic beauty of nature and are braver than we give them credit for. But for those worried, please know that the snow leopard cubs are fine and safe.”
A.R. LaValle says
And exactly HOW do you know the cubs are safe and sound? I truly do not believe it. They were too young and gravely inexperienced as hunters, not to mention it being winter, and four adult cats were in their territory. Don’t say things just to placate the masses to excuse action not taken to preserve the delicate balance, life and beauty of THREE of OUR charges. Our lives these days are TOO full of lies as it is….
This is late, but considering how he never said Where the cubs are, saying nothing about a legitimate wildlife preserve organization, my heart breaks, for I can only imagine they’re both dead.
Animals such as those are endangered Because of Humans, therefore it is the Responsibility of humans to save their lives…
DIANE SMITH says
Please let me know what happened to the two snow leopard cubs