Pandas (G)

Documentary 40 min. April 6, 2018
By Simon Abrams
The unexpectedly impressive nature documentary Pandas is so visually dynamic that even the most pedantic (think Neil deGrasse Tyson-level) skeptics will probably not mind listening to narrator Kristen Bell -- speaking for writer/co-director Drew Fellman -- rattle off 43 minutes worth of cutesy panda trivia.

You may, admittedly, wonder what Fellman means when Bell says that pandas "need" to eat 50 pounds of bamboo per day if bamboo has almost no nutritional value. But it's hard to stay mad for long at Fellman and his fellow cinematographer turned co-director David Douglas given their stunning use of wide-angle 3D IMAX cameras to film the streams and mountains surrounding China's Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

Fellman and Douglas thoughtfully present their furry, camera-shy subjects as a small part of a vast ecosystem; the filmmakers slowly pan to the right across the treeline before settling on a small cluster of pandas half-sleeping, half-hiding up some very high limbs. This sequence lasts about 10 to 15 seconds, long enough to establish how slow life can be for the sluggish -- or, in Fellman's words, "energy-efficient" -- pandas.

So feel free to laugh when Bell inanely declares that Chengdu's pandas were bred to help their endangered species by becoming a "panda force in the battle against extinction." You'll still find everything you could realistically hope for from an IMAX documentary about pandas in a meticulously blocked crane shot of a doe-eyed bear accompanied by a human biologist: The two trundle along slowly as the camera drifts up, effectively highlighting their small place in their awe-inspiring sanctuary.
David Douglas, Drew Fellman Kristen Bell Drew Fellman Drew Fellman Warner Bros.

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