Greetings again from the darkness. You’d be hard-pressed to name or find anything cuter than a baby Panda, and the folks at Disneynature don’t hesitate in taking full advantage of our affinity for such fuzzy black and white cuddliness. Am I upset with them after watching this documentary? Only because they periodically cut away to a herd of antelope.
This is the next in a line of Disneynature films dating back to 2007 (Oceans, Bears, African Cats) that usually hit theaters in close proximity to Earth Day. This particular screening was also affiliated with the inaugural year of EARTHxFilm, a Dallas-based festival dedicated to all things nature, natural and earthy. Acclaimed Chinese director Chuan Lu and his photography crew take us into some stunning wilderness areas and parts of China that we rarely, if ever, get to see … all to witness intimate wildlife moments in shockingly close proximity.
If what comes to mind are those charming Disney animal features from the 1960’s – the ones that featured the great Rex Allen as narrator, you’re in for a surprise. Hey, I loved Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar and Yellowstone Cubs as much as the next kid, but rolling down a leaf-covered hill with a baby Panda that can’t walk yet is a whole new level of awe. Watching a mother Snow Leopard (what an incredible creature!) hunt so her two cubs can eat takes us to the highest standard of respect and admiration for this elusive species. Heck, even the rebellious Golden snub-nose Monkey teaches us about family and community within the monkey world … and how they don’t appreciate cold weather any more than I.
Director Lu provides a loose ancient Chinese structure to the film by explaining that every time a crane takes flight, it’s believed to be relocating the soul/spirit of one dying being into that of a newborn.
The spectacle of watching these creatures majestically soar through the orange-sun soaked sky is merely one of the many breathtaking examples of spectacular photography during the film. We are bounced between mountains and forest and rocky vistas and are taken closer than you’ve ever been to a Great Panda scratching her baby, a Snow Leopard on the prowl, or a monkey rescuing his baby sister from an ominous winged predator. The only downside for grown-ups is the over-narration from John Krasinski, an admitted necessity for the youngsters in the audience who will appreciate the one-liners that go along with the cuteness. In Disney fashion, most of nature’s violence takes place off screen, but what we do see are parts of nature that will amaze.
Be sure to stay for the closing credits for a glimpse at how the photographers managed to get some of their shots – as well as how they sacrifice for their work.