Back in 2015, National Geographic and Virgil Films followed the efforts of workers at the Wolong Panda Center in China to protect and breed pandas in the then new documentary Pandas: The Journey Home. The 40-minute presentation followed the center’s employees as they worked to not only protect the bears, but also prepare them for a life in the wild. The efforts were aimed at helping increase the still low population of pandas. Fast forward six years and audiences have gotten another such program, this time from PBS in the form of the Nature episode Pandas: Born to be Wild. Released on DVD Jan. 5, the new profile proves to be an admirable companion piece (of sorts) to the aforementioned documentary. That is due in part to its story, which will be addressed shortly. The cinematography featured in the 53-minute episode builds on the program’s appeal. It will be discussed a little later. Noting everything else, the run time and pacing collectively round out the program’s most important elements here. They will also be discussed later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the episode. All things considered, they make the episode another enjoyable edition of Nature.
Nature: Pandas — Born to be Wild is yet another strong addition to the long-running series that audiences will find enjoyable. Not only that, but it is also a presentation that every nature and animal lover in general should see at least once. That is proven in part through its central story. The story in question follows the efforts of workers at a panda sanctuary in China’s Qinling Mountains to breed and release pandas into the wild. It is very similar, stylistically, to the story in National Geographic and Virgil Films’ 2015 documentary Pandas: The Journey Home. The main difference between the two documentaries is that the earlier documentary focused on pandas at another of China’s 40-plus panda centers. To be precise, it focuses on the efforts undertaken at the Wolong Panda Center in the Chengdu Mountains. This story meanwhile takes place at another center in the Qinling Mountains. Audiences will be interested to learn about the lengths to which the center’s employees go in order to prepare pandas raised at the facility for life in the wild. From dressing up as pandas and squirting themselves with panda urine (yes, you read right – simply so they can check the health of a baby cub – to keeping 24/7 watch on the pandas through a series of cameras, to even simply minimizing contact with the bears (so as to let them act as naturally as possible), the lengths to which the center’s employees go are great, and are aimed at helping the pandas…well…be pandas. There is a lot of cuteness throughout the nearly hour-long program as the (thankfully) unnamed cub grows and learns how to be a panda. Audiences will laugh as the narrator points out the cub’s “struggles” to grow and become independent of its mother. That is because its actions are so much like those of an adolescent human. At one point, the cub (at the equivalent age of a human teen) seems like it is finally becoming independent, but then regresses, not even able to figure out how to properly do something as simple as eating bamboo shoots. It doesn’t seem funny on the surface, but in reality is funny because, again, it is so much like so many human teens. At other points, the actions of the cub’s mom almost exactly mirror those of a human mother, making for its own share of entertainment and engagement. The mother panda, in one of those points, grabs at her cub as he tries to climb a tree. The noises that she makes as she tries to stop her cub from climbing a tree let viewers know (along with the narrator) that she does not want her baby climbing but so high. This moment will bring plenty of smiles and laughter. That the narrator points out her babying of her own baby (much like so many human moms) will bring its own share of laughs. Something as simple as that ensures audiences’ engagement even more.
For all of the cuteness that takes place in the panda center, there is also much observation of the few wild pandas in the mountains that is more serious. These moments help create a clear juxtaposition for viewers, pointing out how much work the protected cub has to do before it is ready for the wild. Staying on that note, there are some semi-blurry scenes involving pandas mating in the wild here. To that point, these moments are not kid friendly, so some viewer discretion is advised. Otherwise, the rest of the program will find appeal among most audiences through its story, which follows the cub’s growth and development. Making the story even better is the fact that audiences do not have to endure any preaching about environmentalism in this episode, unlike so many past episodes. That is the best note of all here. There is so much more in the story for audiences to enjoy. Audiences will be left for viewers to discover on their own. Keeping that in mind, the story is just one aspect of this episode that audiences will enjoy. The cinematography featured in the episode adds its own appeal.
The cinematography featured in Nature: Pandas – Born to be Wild is stunning to say the very least. The wide shots of the mountain valley will leave audiences in awe throughout the seasons, for starters. Watching a large male panda get so close to the camera crews in the mountains at one point makes for another awe-inspiring moment. Thankfully the large male does not attack the camera crew, but seeing it so up close in the wild is a powerful moment in is own right in terms of the cinematography. The many moments shared between the mother panda and her cub – including the sweetest moment early on in which she cradles her newborn — make for their own engagement and entertainment. Between these moments and others, the cinematography featured in this episode of Nature makes for so much visual entertainment. Together with the episode’s story, the two elements collectively enrich the episode even more. They are just a portion of what audiences will find appealing, too. The program’s collective pacing and run time round out its most important elements.
As has already been noted, Nature: Pandas – Born to be Wild clocks in at 53 minutes, which is the typical run time for most of the series’ episodes. There is actually a lot going on in this episode’s story considering the comparison of how pandas in the wild live and how the featured panda cub lives. The story’s end will not be revealed here since it is not the most important aspect. What is important to note is that the transitions between the panda center and the wilds of the Qinlin Mountains is steady and stable throughout the course of the noted run time. That stability in the transitions ensures in its own right, that the program’s pacing remains stable, too. It is the cornerstone of the overall story of the panda cub’s growth, which again is so entertaining and engaging just because that story will find audiences laughing and “awwwing” throughout. That aspect and the stable transitions together keep the story moving fluidly throughout the episode, putting the finishing touch to the program. By story’s end, audiences will feel fulfilled. To that end, this element is the final touch to the program’s presentation. Together with the cinematography and the story itself, all three elements make the program in whole another standout episode of Nature.
Nature: Pandas – Born to be Wild is a presentation that audiences will agree is another enjoyable addition to the long-running wildlife series’ body of work. Its central story, which follows the growth and development of a young panda cub in the Qinlin Mountains of China does well to compare his development versus how wild pandas live. What’s more, it avoids any unnecessary preachy environmentalist message. The cinematography featured along with the story adds to the episode’s engagement and entertainment. The story’s collective run time and pacing put the finishing touch to the episode’s presentation. Thanks to those elements, audiences will never feel left behind or overwhelmed, which is another positive. Each item noted here is important in its own right to the whole of this episode of Nature. All things considered, the episode in whole proves to be another example of what makes Nature such an enjoyable program. They make this program easily one more of 2021’s top new documentaries.
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