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Born in China Reviews

Born in China, Disneynature’s latest wildlife documentary, is arriving just in time for Earth Day, and it’s a visually stunning and heartfelt adventure that chronicles, over the course of one year, the lives of three diverse groups of animals that are native to China: giant pandas, snow leopards, and golden snub-nosed monkeys. Each of the three segments focuses on one main character, and seeks to humanize these mostly adorable creatures so they’ll be more relatable (apparently, just being cute and cuddly isn’t enough). The filmmakers continually try, with the help of John Krasinski’s humorous narration, to anthropomorphize these fascinating animals; the story lines occasionally seem a bit contrived, but overall the formula works and viewers of all ages will likely be enthralled.   The most compelling story focuses on Dawa, a snow leopard raising two cubs amid the craggy hills and snow-covered terrain of the Hubei Shennongjia National Nature Reserve, an often harsh and unforgiving environment. When a sharp-toothed interloper arrives to challenge Dawa, their snarling, face-to-face showdown is thrilling to watch. Later, the rival leopard returns with her three intimating adult sons, which ratchets up the suspense even further. If Dawa is unable to fend off these vicious intruders, she will be unable to provide food for her still-dependent cubs. It literally becomes a life-or-death situation.   The other two narratives are much more lighthearted. Tao Tao, an adolescent golden snub-nosed monkey, is an outcast from his family now that he has a new baby sister who commands most of their parents’ attention. He soon takes up with a rowdy bunch of fellow monkeys, dubbed the Lost Boys, and their mischievous escapades are a hoot to watch. Unfortunately, Tao Tao’s tale is the most contrived, as we’re simply told that he feels rejected and longs to find a way to return to his family. Maybe that’s true, but the segment seems a bit forced, as if the filmmakers came up with the story arc in the editing room.   Lastly, we’re introduced to a mother panda named Ya Ya and her playful cub Mei Mei, who continually tries to assert her independence from her overprotective mom and constantly dreams (or so we’re told) about climbing trees. Once a cub masters this skill, it can protect and provide for itself. But Mei Mei won’t be climbing trees anytime soon: Much of the film’s humor comes from her attempts to simply stay upright, and she takes several tumbles down soft, grassy hills.   Born in China’s cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking, and its circle-of-life stories are eye-opening, amusing, touching, and, yes, even human. It’s a gift to nature lovers everywhere.