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 fifty 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 3-D 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 tree line before settling on a small cluster of pandas half sleeping, half hiding up some very high limbs. This sequence lasts about ten to fifteen 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.
Directed by David Douglas and Drew Fellman
Opens April 6, AMC Empire 25
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