Review: ‘Born In China’ is a Harrowing Portrait of the Middle Kingdom

Ben Zacuto ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Film Editor

Disneynature’s Born In China, the seventh installment in the nature documentary series by Walt Disney Pictures, showcases the majesty of mainland China. Inspired by Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures (which garnered him his first live-action Oscar win), Born In China is a marvelous trip through nearly every region of the vast country. However, as epic as the setting and characters are, this film displays both the best and worst of the series. While the documentary does tell beautiful stories of how giant panda, snow leopard, and golden snub-nosed monkey families survive in the ever-changing landscape, the film falls under certain tired conventions that unfortunately may divert audiences’ attention to more mainstream fare.

Born In China. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

The sweeping landscapes and the beautiful stories of the inhabitants of the land, as showcased in particularly of the snow leopard and giant panda families, are some of the best snapshots of wild China western audiences may have ever encountered. The panda cub, named Mei Mei, stands out as one of the cutest critters ever featured in a Disney documentary. Additionally, the harrowing story of the mother snow leopard fighting to protect and feed her two cubs is one of the most emotional of the series.

Born In China. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

While the stories of the panda and snow leopard families are a joy to behold, the film is severely derailed by the anthropomorphization of many of the wild animals. In particular, the sections of the film dedicated to the golden snub-nosed monkey family, and in particular the portrait of a young male named Tao Tao, obstructs the otherwise dramatic and loving portrayals of the other wild creatures. Just like in Disneynature’s last feature, Monkey Kingdom, too much focus is placed on having narrator John Krasinski configure contemporary dialogue onto the facial movements and actions of the bouncy creatures. From a nature documentary and scientific perspective, these parts make the documentary difficult to watch, quite frankly, which is too bad considering the beauty of the rest of the picture.

Born In China. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

While the wild animal anthropomorphizations are rather distressing, the rest of Born In China is simply a marvel to behold. Yes, the film is not particularly well-paced considering the juxtaposition of Krazinski’s induction of dialogue against extraordinary creatures and settings. But these creatures and settings are so marvelous that the rest can be forgiven. Born In China is not a perfect film, but neither are the lives of these ever-lasting creatures, who, even with nearly all of the odds stacked against them, seem to overcome.

Overall Grade: B

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