Amid the din of tentpole extravaganzas, Disney continues to quietly release annual excursions into the world of animals, every bit as spectacular as the big films but at a fraction of the budget and the return. But they produce them anyway, as part of their worldwide conservation efforts (another relatively unheralded but highly accomplished program) and as a part of the heritage created by Walt Disney with his multi-Oscar winning True-Life Adventure series.
Born in China may be the Disneynature film to best capture to the spirit of True-Life Adventures to date, as it contains a similar blend of drama, emotion and comedy (complete with a funny musical “branch breaking sequence”). It’s all conveyed through the ingenious editing of endless animal footage with narration that gives identities and storylines to the principal “characters.”
Therein lies some of the criticism of the original series, which was accused of anthromorphizing the creature, assigning them personalities and motives that might be fictional. However, while these human assumptions may be so, they are made with the cooperation of experts who know about the behaviors of the species. What the storyline does is draw in the viewers—especially children—offering a beginning, middle and end rather than recite a series of dry facts. Walt Disney always believed that you couldn’t reach audiences with education without being entertaining in some way.
Indeed, John Kracynki’s narration has all the raised-eyebrow heightened wonder of a young father reading to his children. Born in China presents a rare glimpse of landscapes and animals, an experience that seems cathartic in today’s world. Sometimes it’s good to see that there are other worlds and other living beings on earth besides us with their own ongoing joys and challenges.
The end credits and Blu-ray bonus features offer just a fraction of the time consuming, physically demanding work that goes into making films like these, focusing on each of the separate teams covering each of the species—golden monkeys, snow leopards and pandas–focused upon in the feature. Most amusing is seeing the teams required to dress in panda attire to keep the real pandas at ease when they got close enough to safely film these fascinating creatures.