(Video on Demand, September 2017) The good news are that Born in China, as with all other DisneyNature films, is a terrific collection of nature footage, following animals in their habitats with glorious high-definition detail. Taking into account three families of animals (pandas, snow leopards and monkeys) set deep in China’s countryside, the documentary builds a very human-friendly narrative around the footage. It’s all done very professionally, but parents with young children may want to note that one of the stories really doesn’t have a happy ending, and wrapping up a sad epilogue in stirring circle-of-life narration may not soften the blow. Best seen in high-definition, Born in China doesn’t revolutionize the nature-documentary genre nor question is manipulative-narrative conventions, but it’s serviceable enough and offers plenty of great images.
(On Cable TV, December 2014) Disneynature is on a hot streak lately, and Bears is merely the latest in a strong line-up of nature documentaries that bring the latest available filmmaking technology to classic animal storylines. Here, we follow a mother bear and her cub through a year of trials and tribulations. (Don’t worry: everything turns out fine for both of them.) The high-definition images are crisp and colorful, and the script does a nice job at anthropomorphising animal behavior in terms that make it accessible to the entire family. John C. Reilly is perfectly cast as the narrator finding a good balance between the goofiest moments and the more dangerous ones. Bears delivers exactly what it promises, and so pretty much cuts off any longer discussion of its merits: It’s perfect family viewing, often beautiful, frequently funny and ultimately entirely satisfying.