There are many reasons to explore Disneynature’s “Born in China,” which offers a rare look into the country’s vast natural world.
The view is both spectacular and educational: Director Lu Chuan’s film celebrates Saturday’s Earth Day, with a portion of the first week’s box office going to the World Wildlife Fund.
But if you’re going to be really honest, “Born in China” is all about those baby animal stars alluded to in the title, starting with a darling panda cub, Mei Mei.
“I feel like I am cheating because the movie I am a part of has baby pandas. That’s like bringing in a ringer,” says narrator John Krasinski. “This wins just on sheer cuteness.”
Producer Roy Conli says the baby pandas — along with the young golden snub-nosed monkeys and baby snow leopards — are the key players.
“A big part of this film’s story is the evolution, witnessing these juveniles becoming part of their species,” says Conli. “And these baby animals are phenomenally adorable.”
Here’s a breakdown on the movie’s cute cubs.
Mei Mei is a star baby whose love-smothering first-time mother, Ya Ya, runs the roost in Sichuan’s Wolong National Nature Reserve. But the roly-poly Mei Mei still demands to make it on her own as she climbs trees.
The resulting falls (into rocks, into trees) and accidental rolls down hills, accompanied by panda sounds, are natural comedy. And there are those wide eyes taking in the new world.
“There’s nothing cuter than a baby panda,” says Krasinski. “It’s just a fact.”
“Born in China” cameramen didn’t capture any footage for 90 days, as they learned the movement of snow leopards in China’s Tibetan Plateau, the highest mountain plateau on Earth. But they eventually got an up close and personal look at two cubs. Their play, including biting mom Dawa’s ear, is pure joy in a brutal environment where predators compete for scarce food.
“They are adorable, but it’s even more intense thinking about the harsh conditions the cubs and their mother are under,” says Krasinski.
Golden snub-nosed monkeys
The film follows a young acrobatic male named Tao Tao and his scene-stealing younger sister near the Yangtze River in central China’s Shennongjia Forest. The sister is so precious that their parents focus entirely on her, leaving Tao Tao confused and out of the mix. He comes back around to complete the family and even saves his sister from a hawk.
One insanely cute young monkey game involves simply falling through branches to the ground and climbing back up again for more.
“I’d put Tao Tao and his sister up against Baby Groot any day,” says Conli of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” standout star. “And Groot is one of my favorites.”
Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY