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Ecology is a subject that Disney has held close to its heart for pretty much all of its life. With a rich tradition of nature documentaries in its canon, Born In China represents the latest entry in the series of films that the company has been releasing under the Disneynature banner in an effort to promote a better understanding of our environment. While this film achieves that goal to a certain effect, mostly through beautiful wildlife photography, it does hamper itself in certain areas, leading to rather uneven product.
Through the stories of pandas, monkeys, and snow leopards, the various areas of China's ecosystem are brought to beautiful life. Across all three stories, the themes of life, death, and survival will be explored. Though be warned, as nature is not always kind, and not all are guaranteed to make it out of the movie alive. Such are the perils of nature, and the wages of life.
In an era of Planet Earth being the massive hit that it is with the BBC, films like Born in China almost immediately pale in comparison. While the photography is certainly on the level as its storied competition, Disney's efforts are a little softer when they tackle the true nature of the environment. For example, the death of one of the major animals in the film is handled artistically, but the repercussions aren't discussed. While they might be readily apparent to the more grown up audience, the children watching might leave with questions their parents will need to fill in.
That isn't to say that Born in China is an unenjoyable film to watch. It's still a visually lush look at animals in their natural habitat, and the cuteness factor definitely comes through. With John Krasinski as narrator, the film plays as gentle entertainment that all can enjoy, with a voice that can both convey the serious nature of the material, while also throwing in some comedic verve into the proceedings. It makes for an entertaining film, but not necessarily a fully fleshed out one.
Born In China serves best as a gateway into bigger, better nature documentaries, but if you're a veteran of such material, your mileage may vary. If you do see Born In China in theaters, there are two things you can take comfort in being included with your ticket price. They are as follows: for the first weekend, the part of the proceeds go to the World Wildlife Federation, and you can count on stunning visuals focused on gorgeous animals to rule the screen.
Ultimately though, the total product of Born in China still comes off as thin, both in material and running time. If Disney had gone for a slightly longer film that went a little deeper into some of the sadder realities of nature, it might have been able to stand up. But with nature documentaries having somewhat of a resurgence through efforts such as Planet Earth and its recent sequel, Disney is going to have to step things up a little with next year's nature offering, Dolphins. But if you need a quick fix of relatively calm animal cuteness, this film should serve as a nice breather before blockbuster season cranks things up.