PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If there’s a more photogenic creature, large or small, on a movie screen anywhere, large or small, than a baby panda, I’ve yet to see it.
And because the baby panda currently co-starring in Born in China, is so quintessentially camera-ready, the cuteness factor of this nature documentary is almost too much to, well, bear.
Regardless, Born in China is a visually stunning doc, sporting breathtaking landscapes galore, that was shot in the wilds of China, with its widely diverse climates and terrains, in search of privileged moments, chiefly with pandas, monkeys, snow leopards, cranes, and antelopes.
The creatures we get to know include a panda bear and her growing cub, living a solitary life; a young golden snub-nosed monkey, mischievous and rebellious, feeling ignored when her baby sister comes along; a rarely seen mother snow leopard raising her two cubs; the ever-hunted Tibetan antelope on the run; and flocks of cranes, which are revered as symbols of good fortune and longevity and which take flight to carry the spirit of a departed creature from this world to the next.
The script is organized around the circle of life – and death, which is only occasionally mentioned — and the changing of the seasons, and the intent is to capture both the majesty and the harsh reality of living in this remote part of the world.
To the credit of the screenplay by David Fowler, Brian Leith, Phil Chapman, and director Chuan Lu (The Last Supper, The Missing Gun, Mountain Patrol, City of Life and Death, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe), the anthropomorphism is generally restrained, which probably helps the narration by John Krasinski to land more or less naturally.
Speaking of which, the storylines seem to unfold naturally as well, indicating an admirable patience on the part of Lu and his crew, who worked for years on this project seeking the elusive but telling closeup, which the films offers in satisfying quantity.
The G rating on this visit with several animal families certainly beckons the family audience, although some youngsters may be frightened by the depicted moments of peril, which are not exactly focused upon but are not ignored either.
Ultimately this is a film that offers a view of China that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see.
And, by the way, if you stay through the closing credits, you’ll get a fleeting glimpse into the painstaking filmmaking process.
So we’ll visit 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the warm and winning wildlife documentary, Born in China. As that most wizardly of kids’ movies almost says, leopards and monkeys and pandas, oh, my.