Blu-ray Review: Born In China

By , Contributor
There's so much staggering imagery in Disneynature's documentary Born In China that it's easily recommendable. Those seeking a deeply informative, educational piece about animals in the wild might skip it. The narration (cloyingly delivered by John Krasinski), intrusive pop music (thankfully only occasional), and manufactured-feeling "plot" lines somewhat consign the film to Kiddie Korner. In fact, it's almost a shame the new Blu-ray (now available) doesn't include an isolated music-and-effects track, since the visuals pretty much speak for themselves. Too much of the narration is obvious exposition or unnecessary personification of its animal subjects. And yet, the film is an undeniable treat if one can see past its hokier moments.

Stylistically, Born In China presents an odd mixture of a starkly lyrical minimalism (courtesy of director Lu Chuan) and the old Disney True-Life Adventures documentaries popular in the '50s. I'm not sure who contributed what to the screenplay (credited to four, including Chuan), but there are some cringe-worthy moments (rendered all the cringier by Krasinski, who adopts a sub-Mr. Rodgers approach to speaking). Divided into the four seasons, Born charts a year in the life cycle of four groups of animals: snow leopards, pandas, chiru, and golden snub-nosed monkeys. Within each of these groups, certain specific animals (given names for easier reference) are followed as they interact with each other, their habitat, and their inevitable predators.

Gore is almost absent during the scenes involving attack, a "clean" approach that works well given the generally gentle nature of Chuan's film. Some of the stories feel more authentic than others. The depiction of a female snow leopard's struggles to feed her young is Born at its most hauntingly poignant. This narrative thread is subtly, sensitively handled but will likely upset younger viewers (and maybe some older ones too). On the other end of the spectrum is a somewhat labored "redemption of a disgraced family member" story involving the golden monkeys, which includes a happy ending that feels like a consolation to counter the film's sadder elements.

But all caveats aside, the beautiful scenery and fascinating animals are the stars here—not John Krasinski or the clunky script he's made to read. And those positive elements are so mesmerizing it makes the film's faults imminently forgivable.

Disney's Blu-ray offers mostly impeccable visuals (there are a few less-than-sharp moments that are maybe inherent in the source material rather than any fault of the transfer). Born In China is generally a prime example of the cliche "a feast for the eyes." The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix offers a fine balance of immersive atmospheric sounds, music, and narration.

The 79-minute film is supplemented by about a half-hour of bonus features. There are four short featurettes (five to eight minutes each) focusing on three of the four above-mentioned animal groups (cranes, which provide a sort of over-arcing focus in Born In China, sub for the chiru). There's also a music video for the prominently-featured "Everything Everything" by American Authors and a short PSA "Disneynature: Get Inspired, Get Involved."

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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