Parents need to know that “Pandas” is an educational IMAX nature documentary narrated by Kristen Bell that focuses on an initiative shared by Americans and the Chinese to introduce bred pandas into the wild. The film focuses on the Chengdu Panda Base in China, where scientists breed adorable baby pandas in captivity with the hopes of releasing them back into their natural habitat. With the help of an American black bear expert who has successfully rescued and released bears in New England for decades, a team of panda specialists attempts to do the same in China. There’s nothing too iffy in the film other than a suspenseful scene in which it’s unclear whether the main panda, Qian Qian, will survive (spoiler alert: she does!) in the wild.
WHAT’S THE STORY?
“Pandas” is an IMAX nature documentary narrated by Kristen Bell about arguably the most adorable bears in the animal kingdom. At the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan, China, researchers and animal experts have worked on a captive breeding program that aims to add to the 2,000 pandas alive in the wild. But it’s difficult to introduce animals born in captivity into the wild, so Hou Rong, the director of research at Chengdu, reaches out to Ben Kilham, an American black bear expert who, for more than two decades, has rescued bear cubs and released them back into the forests of New Hampshire. After visiting Kilham and hiring him as a consultant, Hou Rong also hires Jake Owens, an American conservation biologist, to use Kilham’s techniques with a panda cub called Qian Qian (“Chen Chen”). Owens and a Chinese scientist work together to gain Qian Qian’s trust, train her, and eventually lead her back into the wild.
IS IT ANY GOOD?
Bell narrates this sweet, educational nature documentary about a conservationist teaching a clever little panda how to survive in the wild. Pandas, particularly panda cubs, are pretty irresistible; for that matter, so is Bell. A known animal lover with an evocative speaking voice, she’s especially suited to this film, which chronicles how Chinese and American conservationists worked together to train panda cubs to become capable of living on their own beyond the borders of the research facility’s preserve. It’s touching to see the Chinese and American bear specialists exchange information for the betterment of panda kind.
Owens takes on a parent-like role as he spends years building trust with panda cub Qian Qian and preparing her for eventual release into the wild. The movie will tug at viewers’ heartstrings, particularly for parents who can relate to raising and then releasing children into the world. When Qian Qian goes beyond the borders of the research base into the mountains, audiences will cheer, just as they’ll feel tense when the panda’s GPS tracker alerts Owens and the rest of the scientists that she hasn’t moved in quite a while. For a brief moment, even adults will wonder whether Qian Qian has survived — but rest assured, this is a happy, feel-good story.
RATING AND CONTENT
Recommended for ages 6 and older
Quality: 4 out of 5
Educational value: 4 out of 5
Positive messages: 4 out of 5
Positive role models: 4 out of 5
Violence and scariness: 2 out of 5
Sexy stuff: 0 out of 5
Language: 0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 0 out of 5
Consumerism: 0 out of 5
In theaters: April 6, 2018
Directors: David Douglas, Drew Fellman
Studios: IMAX, Warner Bros.
Run time: 45 minutes
MPAA rating: G