Born in China
Two single moms and a rebel tween boy from different sides of the Yangtze fight their own battles for survival. The catch? They’re all wild animals and the unwitting stars of Born in China, the latest charming Earth Day documentary from Disneynature.
Bookended by symbolic shots of noble cranes and accompanied throughout by warm narration from John Krasinski, the film covers a year in the life of snow leopard Dawa and her two cubs, golden snub-nosed monkey Tao Tao and giant panda mother Ya Ya and her young daughter Mei Mei.
Incredible, close-up photography of creatures not seen every day is the reason to see Born in China, but the focus on gestures and sounds with comparable human analogs makes its easier to relate to the animals’ adventures.
Director Lu Chuan moves between the three families in a generally logical, entertaining and egalitarian manner, looping in chiru gazelles for an enjoyable distraction from the more serious lead trio of stories.
But while two of the sagas feature predators, including interspecies threats, other than Dawa’s predominately dramatic arc, the action is lighthearted and features a wealth of slapstick augmented by Krasinski’s playful comments.
All three parts work well on their own terms, but it’s the bat/ape-looking Tao Tao whose exploits nicely combine comedy and tragedy, plus an intriguing coming-of-age subplot as he falls in with a gang of “lost boys” overseen by a Falstaff-like man/child.
Could the culturally-inspired instrumental score be less manipulative as well as less Middle School Band 101? Will a good deal of Krasinski’s vocabulary fly right over many of the core audience’s little heads? Yes and yes, but the sights and sounds are enough to keep viewers of all ages engaged.
Furthermore, for a non-animated children’s film, Born in China goes to some dark places – to the the point that one half expects The Lion King anthem “The Circle of Life” (or at least a schmaltzy string version of it) to play over the end credits. Instead, the filmmakers roll video that answers some questions on how the sights were captured, perhaps inspiring some future documentarians in the process.
Grade: B-plus. Rated G. Now playing at Biltmore Grande