Disney may have had some huge hits so far with their fictional films, but Disney Nature’s Born In China has hit theaters this past weekend to celebrate Earth Day. The film showcases the majestic Snow Leopards, the lovable Pandas, and the mischievous Golden Monkeys in their beautiful natural habitat of the remote terrain of China. Last month I had the opportunity to sit down with Producer, Roy Conli, for a roundtable interview with the man partly responsible for getting this beautiful film about these majestic creatures made. The film’s goals to raise awareness and education of the animals shone through in Conli’s passion for not only the project, but for the animals themselves, is truly inspiring.
One of the most breathtaking things about the film was its ability to showcase these beautiful creatures in extremely rare views. Conli really highlighted this when mentioning the brilliant cinematographer, Shane Moore, who had to climb to the top of the Qinghai plateau, which is in Conli’s words “amazingly rugged.” He went on to state that Moore “did not get any shots of snow leopards until his 90th day.” Which, coincidentally, was when his 90-day visa ended and so he had to leave the country after getting that shot.
This rarity of seeing the leopards caused some concern for the project, but it all found a way to work itself out in the end. Conli called the cinematographers of this project the real “unsung heroes.” This is mainly due to the difficult conditions and the freezing cold temperatures they had to endure in being in those regions, especially in such a highly elevated plateau.
The major topic that was discussed was the balance between telling a captivating story, but not letting the filmmakers interview with the animals, especially with the snow leopards, who are known to be quite dangerous. Conli stated that, “We are committed to not interfering with nature.” He went on to mention that the snow leopards as being “the most elusive animal on the planet not only because they stay away from humanity, but because you can’t see them.” Shane Moore started filming the leopards at 400 meters and as the leopards began to realize he wasn’t a threat allowed him to get as close as “40 to 50 meters.” “He knew what his limits were and he didn’t want to overstep it.”
While the leopards may have been the most elusive, the pandas and the monkeys had their own set of challenges. Conli mentioned that the monkeys were extremely curious and playful. They would often try to get in the way of the cameras or put on a show. The difficult thing with that was to find a balance to show these animals in their own natural habitat.
The film uses a narrative to tell the stories of these animals and actor John Krasinski provided his voice for the narration of this film.The question was posed as to his involvement and Conli stated that, “I understood that he was perfect for this. He’s a really, really good actor and yet he’s an amazing comedian as well.” This balance of comedy and heart, paired with Krasinski’s voice created the story that was unfolding and it made it an easy to understand and relatable film.
Arguably the most important aspect of the project was its dedication to the understanding and care of these animals, whose numbers are shrinking. The first weekend profits of this film goes to the World Wildlife Fund benefitting these animals. Conli made a point to say, “Anyone who goes that first weekend will be contributing to the betterment of this world.” This mission is important to him and to Disney.
The film is already in theaters and until Thursday if you attend, you will be benefitting that great cause.
What do you think of the film if you have seen it and what do you think of Roy Conli’s words at this roundtable? Let us know in the comments!