Movie Review: “Born in China”

Born in China

I don’t see a lot of movies that make me say “D’awww!” frequently, so Disneynature’s “Born in China” was a refreshing change of pace–a movie that appeals to adults and kids alike. Taking a break from the hyper-urban settings we often see representing China, “Born in China” showcases more remote regions, high in the mountains at 14,000 feet above sea level or along the flat, muddy, icy plains where antelopes dominate the landscape.

 

A Chinese valley with stunning hills shadowed by white, puffy clouds

A backdrop not to be ignored: the breathtaking wonder of China

 

The movie follows the stories of several different kinds of animals: antelopes, snow leopards, monkeys, cranes, and–of course–giant pandas. In each storyline (save for the cranes), you learn something about the animals’ psyches or how they relate to each other. The circle of life so brilliantly sung about in a Disney movie set half a world away is put on careful display for the G-rated set. Violence is depicted, but even when fatal it’s shown bloodlessly. Birth is seen, and babies are aplenty; you’ll almost never fail to please the younger crowd when you put baby animals on display. (Or so the theory goes.)

 

YaYa snuggling with her baby, MeiMei

Giant panda YaYa snuggling with her baby, MeiMei

 

As the story bounces back and forth between the different “characters”–Dawa, the snow leopard; TaoTao, the golden snub-nosed monkey; YaYa, the giant panda; and the nameless (yet max adorbs) Chiru antelopes–the contrasts in their environments and situations becomes clearer while their similarities emerge. Nature is a harsh place when food becomes scarce, family bonds can be incredibly tight, and there’s nothing like a mommy’s love for her babies (I can attest to that). If there’s a lesson to be learned (since none of the stories discuss any encroachment from environmental hazards and human predators), it is that instinct and love will keep the wheel of life turning as long as life can exist.

 

Dawa the snow leopard

Dawa, regal mistress of all that she surveys

 

Each of the character animals faces its own challenge: Dawa struggles with the difficulties that come from being atop the food chain (which isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be), TaoTao turns “bad boy” when he feels ignored following the birth of his baby sister, YaYa quite literally can’t bring herself to let go of her baby, MeiMei, and the Chiru females have long roads to travel as they bring forth the next generation of antelopes.

 

TaoTao the monkey's family huddling together for warmth

TaoTao’s family huddles up to protect against winter’s bite

 

You see each animal in a seasonal vignette; the movie begins in Spring and progresses through to the Fall of the next year. Each of these mini-worlds contains some measure of danger and potential for heartache, but the filmmakers do their level best to keep the emotional damage to a minimum. The cranes are the sole exception to the build of a specific animal’s storyline; in their case, they serve as a reminder of their mystical role in Chinese folklore as carriers of spirits. When they are seen, it is the turning of a page, the inevitable cranking of that wheel. One life ends, another begins. And so it goes, endlessly.

 

Cranes taking flight

As cranes take flight, so do the souls of those who’ve recently departed

 

Could the movie have been trimmed here and there, or could the cranes have been more than a metaphor? Sure. But all in all, it was a cute film and it showed an incredibly gorgeous side of China I never knew existed. Narrator John Krakowski (“The Office”) adds equal parts gravitas and humor in his rendering of the stories. His comedic chops and timing are on full display when the male chiru are parading around in all of their glory, skills that are well appreciated by the adults in the crowd.

Is “Born in China” good for kids? ABSOLUTELY. As a G-rated film, it’s baked just for them, although the stunning visuals (including breathtaking time lapse imagery) are going to thrill the adults. It seemed a shame that we screened the film on a regular movie screen; it begged to be on a tall IMAX screen, where the flyovers and mountaintop views can really make your heart skip a beat. Stay for the end credits: there’s some really great behind-the-scenes footage, plus some more animals-being-adorable shots that are totally worth sticking around to see.

Another enticement to see “Born in China”, whose release date is timed to coincide with Earth Day Weekend: for every ticket sold for an opening week showing (April 21-27), Disneynature will make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund.

If that’s not enough to get you turning the wheel of your car towards the movie theatre, I’m just not sure what will.

Three and a half out of four stars.

“Born in China” opens in theatres on Friday, April 21, 2017. It’s rated G.

There’s nothing funny about actual “Mean Girls”

Mean girls suck. Actually, mean people suck, but I’m going to focus on the concept of the “mean girl”, since that’s what most relevant to the situation at hand. To get into it I need to set the stage, so I’m going to roll the clock back to my time in second grade (around 1980).

I was transferred to a new school so I could be part of a “Gifted & Talented” program, one of those accelerated learning programs that public schools in my area offered for kids who tested out of the standard curriculum. I didn’t know anyone there, but the rest of the kids had been together for several years. It’s not like I was some kind of novelty; the other kids mostly just ignored me those first few days. Only one girl took any interest in me, and we became fast friends–a deep friendship that continued for many years.

Some of the other girls, however, were assholes. It’s not like it was everybody, but a select group of A-groupers who were thinner and prettier than everyone else decided that I would be an easy target for their bullying. They’d be nice to me when they wanted to see how I solved a math problem, but otherwise they’d tease me for being fat, for being ugly, for being different from them. It was classic herd rejection.

It took years for me to be comfortable enough in my own skin that I was willing to look past what those early interactions did to my self-esteem. And there was no small part of me that sighed with relief when I saw that my daughter was an improvement on the model by leaps and bounds; she’s just this gorgeous, athletic, smart, funny, kind, and effortlessly cool kid. I figured things would be easier for her.

And yet, I spent a good bit of time up past her bedtime chatting with her last night about the mean girls that she’s encountering. Some are budding juvenile delinquents–not so much for lack of intelligence but for complete lack of discipline and manners. Some are from the classic “mean girl mold”, like telling anyone who’ll listen “I hate {dd}” and stage whispering about dd with her mean girl clique. Some are veritable human tofu: they take on the personality and aspect of those around them, regardless of whether they’re good or bad influences.

It’s sad and frustrating on so many levels. I want to protect dd from the pain that I went through, to have her rise above it and not feel rejected by those who choose to pick on her. I’m incredibly sad that some girls that I’ve known for years, that I’ve taken into my home at times or that I’ve spent time around, are treating her so horribly now. And I know that I can’t go to the parents and ask them why their kids are being such assholes to my kid, because it’s not my place to tell them so. (And they may be aware of the behavior and just don’t care, although I’d like to hope that’s not true.)

When I talked with dd about all of this mess, I asked her to see these kids for who they really are. The tofu girl may still be the nice girl that I’d like to think she is. But when her personality and actions change depending upon who’s she’s around, who’s the real her? The *mean* girl and the juvie-hall candidate-in-training are the ones I’ve told dd just to avoid. I’ve encouraged her to play with the kids that are nice, to find and make those safe spaces away from the kids that treat her like crap. That pushes her outside of her comfort zone which requires risking further rejection by attempting to go and play with someone new.

And I know that everyone thinks their kids are the cutest in the land, but seriously my girl is gorgeous. As in: when I look at her, I’m amazed that she’s my kid. That’s why it was a painful conversation, listening to her to tell me how ugly her face is, how much she hates the color of her skin, how few kids she feels comfortable playing with because of all the cliques and divisions that exist even at the 4th grade level. It hurts because she has natural advantages I didn’t (like her stunning beauty and her athleticism) and she’s still being subjected to this bullshit.

Maybe this is part of growing up, helping you develop a thicker skin and build your self-confidence…or maybe it’s just a shitty part of society that we really need to get past. Maybe one of these days we finally will. It just can’t come soon enough.

What the hell, y’all

So here we are. 2017. And so far, it’s living down to the expectations set by 2016: a year when we saw many celebrities earn a spot on the “In Memoriam” list, a year when Britain voted to be an island in every sense of the word, and a year when nearly 3,000,000 more people voted for HER but HE managed to get the Electoral College vote. In short, 2016 was pretty atrocious.

And then came 2017. The popular vote be damned, the least popular candidate on Inauguration Day installed himself and immediately began creating fresh hell on a nearly hourly basis for many Americans.

Do you like having health care? Well, he’ll fix that. Actually, you’ll still like having health care, but your access will be greatly diminished because the imperfect-but-better-than-what-we-had-before Affordable Care Act is being killed by 1,000 cuts.

Do you like a free press? He’ll fix that, too! From threatening the press corps with expulsion to revoking credentials for exceptionally well-established and highly credible news organizations, the press is being given a stiff arm any time it’s not being fed alternative facts bald-faced lies.

Do you like freedom of movement around the country and abroad? There’s an executive order for that! Thankfully, a temporary nationwide stay has been issued–stopping the unconstitutional order from being enforced…but it’s only temporary, and the Customs and Border Patrol defied regional/state-specific orders, so it’s hard to have much faith we won’t have a full-on Constitutional crisis any minute.

Do you like having a government that at least tries to regulate businesses on issues like pollution and predatory lending? He’s got an answer for you, and it rhymes with “suck goo”.

Color me unimpressed.

It’s been awfully hard to concentrate. I’m sure that’s part of the plan: obfuscate, confuse, frustrate, and discombobulate your opponent. And yet I have a clarity of purpose and emotion. I know that what’s in office right now is wrong, and I can’t wait to vote it out. So in the meantime, I’ll march. HELL YES, I WILL MARCH. I already went to DC and walked the hallowed ground of my birth with 500,000 of my best friends, as we made it perfectly clear that women’s rights are human rights. (I have pictures but, frankly, have been too busy with work and other stuff to upload them except to Twitter.)

And I’ll be out marching again on April 22nd for the March for Science, because science and fact are real things that we don’t just discard when our moral center has been surgically removed by a failure of the Electoral College.

I’m teaching my kids about the three branches of government and how they’re supposed to work together, why The Constitution is so incredibly important, and why the word EQUALITY should be what they always consider in their daily lives.

I haven’t written here lately because I’ve had strep and work and marching and more work and kid events and FUCK, I’M TIRED. And yet, the show must go on. Democracy is really hard work, and I’ve been a participant in it even before I turned 18. We won’t have the country we want by just wishing for it.

So here goes. Time to tell y’all what’s next. What to do. And in-between, make sure that you exercise some self care, like eating a favorite food, or just spending an hour playing with your cat/dog/{insert pet type here}, or watching a movie. But here’s what you do when you’ve got even an iota of stamina:

DONATE: to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center and/or your local food bank. If you don’t have a lot of cash, donate a small amount (even $5 can be a blessing). Or donate clothing. Go volunteer for a nearby charity, donating your time and energy. Then share that on social media to rally your friends to donate, too.

HELP: by calling your Representatives, Senators, and/or Governor. If you’re afraid to call your government because you’ve never done it before, here’s a simple script that needs only minor tweaks: “Hi, my name is {YOUR NAME} and I’m calling about {INSERT CAUSE HERE}. I want you to say {YES/NO} to {LEGISLATION/DECISION} because this is important for the future of our country. Thank you for your time.” Maybe calling Congress isn’t your thing; in that case, check on a family member or friend who has health issues and ask if you can run an errand, hang out with them, or bring them a meal.

ACT: by speaking up and speaking out for what you believe in. This is no time to plant your head in the sand. And yes, it may scare off friends who don’t agree. But are they really your friends if their beliefs deny your right to existence? I’ve had friends who I realized weren’t friends AT ALL when it became obvious that they only wanted to spew hatred, homophobia, sexism, Islamophobia, and other b.s. on my timelines. Decide how much hatred you can accept and draw a line in the sand. Sometimes you can educate, and other times you have to know when to walk away. This isn’t about bubbles; this is about understanding that some people may have put up a good front for years, and now it’s time for everybody to show where they REALLY stand.

Just do something. If not now, when? There may not be a “later”, if we don’t work as a team to make it clear that hatred, disdain for our Constitution, and bullying aren’t allowed to represent our country. There are many legal, positive ways to get involved; so pick one and get started. Then pick another and do that, too. It’s time. Don’t wait until it’s too late.