Pandas are arguably some of the most adorable creatures on this planet, something that many people around the world recognize. Yet not nearly as many people recognize, or make attempts to fix, the current population problem that pandas are facing. This is true for many animals and aspects of nature—people may know of them, and may even enjoy them, but they do not make any efforts to fix the problems that plague them. Pandas is a family-friendly documentary that shows a remarkable collaborative effort to fix the panda population problems. The movie does so in a way engineered to inspire others to follow the path it lays.
From the opening credits, this movie delivers in the way every audience member wished for: with a lot of IMAX-sized footage of baby pandas. The amount of cuteness is almost unbearable at times, with baby pandas rolling around, falling, going down slides, and generally doing the cutest things possible. Watching these fluffy balls of fur slowly grow into 200-lb bears somehow made it even cuter, and helped for the audience to connect in to the main panda of the film, Qian Qian. Qian Qian was chosen to be part of a new program where pandas bred in captivity are then released back into the wild to join other pandas. The project was a joint effort between Chinese and American biologists, who worked together in China to raise and prepare Qian Qian for her revolutionary undertaking. Helping them was wildlife biologist Ben Kilham, who had worked with incredible success with reintroducing raised black bears into the wild, successfully releasing over 160 bears. His secret was to develop trust and to care for the bears—his secret worked fantastically. As such, the entire film is not only a massive endeavor in cuteness, but also an inspiring story of cooperation and care.
That inspiration is what truly makes the film remarkable. Showing footage of cute pandas never fails, and a film comprised of mostly that would work well. But Pandas made the effort to not leave the message implicit, and to not just show cute footage—the film was filled with a sense of global cooperation and was specifically meant to inspire others.
At the end of the Boston showing, Kilham and biologist Jake Owens (both of whom were featured in the film) joined filmmaker Drew Fellman for a Q&A, but the questions weren’t from adults, they were from children. After all, with its G rating and slow pacing, Pandas is a film meant for children, and it is a film meant to inspire them. In coupling the cuteness with the inspiration, Pandas is hopefully showing the youngest generation that careers in biology and wildlife are not only possible, but necessary. Kilham, in his responses, was also keen to note that despite any current political atmosphere, Pandas showed that successful global cooperation is possible, even in the face of climate change and quasi-trade wars. And so, while Pandas will doubtlessly inspire young biologists to come, it is also a movie that will remind parents of those biologists what it is that inspires them so: that through cooperation, and through care, there can be successful change, even if it has to start with a single panda named Qian Qian.
Featured Image by IMAX