One of the things about animal/nature documentaries is that a lot of them aim to be overly cutesy in their narration and stylistic approach as a way to keep the attention of the young ones. Disney’s Born in China did that quite a bit in 2017, and, while it was cute and gorgeous in its imagery, the narration came across as pandering to only a certain demographic and not being informational enough for everyone else. IMAX’s Pandas kind of does that, but it’s not as cloying and off-putting.
In the 40 minutes we get to witness the pandas in action, there actually is more information being presented than there is moments in which narrator Kristen Bell makes a desperate attempt to maintain the attention of the under-five crowd. The imagery itself allows the viewer to get absorbed in the breathtaking scenery of China and to enjoy all of the cute things the pandas do.
The documentary starts off in the Chinese province of Sichuan, in which we get a glimpse of the Chengdu Panda Base and a discussion of how the organization breeds giant pandas and introduces the cubs into the wild. The company’s director of research, Hou Rong, pairs up with a black bear rescuer in New Hampshire named Ben Kilham. His job is to take in any injured black bear he finds and nourish it back to health before releasing it back into the woods. With Kilham’s help, Hou will try to introduce his approach to the pandas at the research center.
It’s hard to resist Pandas, when there are so many of them that populate the screen. Despite its goofy, animated introduction that ends with a panda taking a selfie, the documentary doesn’t come off as too saccharine or silly, and is a great way to introduce the young ones to nature documentaries. It can be a little much at times, with some strange music choices such as ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” playing over images of panda cubs roaming around in the outdoors. But, as a whole, the film is a winner for both younger and older crowds.
Bell is terrific as the narrator, inserting some fun little one-liners here and there such as calling one of the cubs “the King Kong of cute.” She never tries to take over the movie and insert her voice into every scene. Plus, she also presents a lot of useful information about the endangerment of pandas without making it too scary or depressing.
Watching an IMAX documentary at home just makes me wish I had seen it in theaters to get the full experience. While my big screen television is still able to capture the exquisite scenery, it pales in comparison to the IMAX. But Pandas is still wonderful to behold. Those looking to watch the film can now pick it up on digital platforms such as Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, and Google Play Movies & TV.