Review: Disney doc focuses on species ‘Born in China’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Disneynature documentaries have a way of making you say “aww.”

The panda MeiMei is featured in “Born in China.”

They are built for children and as such they are focused on the cute stuff, designed to show the similarities between humans and animals. A National Geographic documentary may not pause for footage of monkeys running through the snow on their tip toes over a playful music cue that makes the sequence feel like a cartoon, but that’s Disneynature’s bread and butter.

“Born in China” has plenty of cute stuff, and also shines a broad light on the majestic, ancient land of China. It works as a sampler platter of what China has to offer, a travel brochure in film form.

“Born in China” spends one year looking at a small handful of animals native to the country, including panda bears, snub-nosed monkeys and snow leopards. Director Chuan Lu embeds with the animals, focusing on the family dynamics of each of the species. He watches a snow leopard defend her mountain to get food for her cubs, a giant panda teaching her baby to survive on its own and a group of monkeys for whom family is a fluid concept. (Perhaps they need to watch one of the “Fast and Furious” movies to get a better grip on the subject.)

The film is broken up into four seasons, and during each of those seasons, we drop in on the different animals like neighbors stopping over for a visit and playing catch up.

TaoTao, a golden snub-nosed monkey, poses with his mom.

Everything is marvelously shot and some glorious images are captured, especially of the snub-nosed monkeys, whose brilliant orange and yellow fur glows like the evening sun.

While “Born in China” doesn’t mask the harsh realities of nature — we watch the aging snow leopard struggle to provide for her family after losing a battle for food — it doesn’t dwell on anything that would be deemed frightening or disturbing. Its light tone is bolstered by John Krasinski’s playful narration; he provides a voiceover like he’s reading a story to a classroom full of third graders.

And that’s the film’s audience, especially given its slight 76-minute running time. “Born in China” won’t teach you everything there is to know about pandas, snow leopards or snub-nosed monkeys, and its storylines feel manipulated by the Disney machine. But darned if it doesn’t make you say “aww.”

(313) 222-2284


‘Born in China’


Rated G

Running time: 76 minutes