The immense popularity of wildlife documentaries once reserved for National Geographic or the Discovery Channels have made their way to the big screen, in no doubt having their path cleared by the success of March of the Penguins. Of late, the foxes got the spotlight in a more fictional take with The Fox & the Child, and now, the Japanese jumps on the same bandwagon by making an animal documentary but on the Chinese's iconic panda bear, with the Chinese being co-producers of course to avoid similar protests of lamentation over Hollywood's Kung Fu Panda, and having it shot in China's Great Panda research facility in Sichuan would be a collaboration of sorts.
What makes a successful documentary of such nature (pardon the pun)? I guess the prime ingredient here will definitely have to be the young ones. You must always have cute babies, and how adorable they are will proportionately affect how audiences will take to the film. The baby penguins made March of the Penguins, and so did the baby Fox. Here, we get baby pandas while they're still slightly pinkish, and the rolly-polly one year olds who roll around the nature reserve, in chase of the camera.
Panda Diary follows the more conventional model like March rather than to have a total fictional narrative spun on it like Fox. And as the title already suggests, the narrative here follows a month by month account from August to August where we have two threads before they converge together. The first focuses on two pandas who had lived their known life in a Japanese theme park, before being repatriated back to China for further assimilation with their own kind, as well as to support efforts in having the pandas breed through environments set up for it.
The other thread of course is the day to day operations within the research facility, where we see how they are coaxed into mating - the researchers being very much like voyeurs in a way, their dietary habits and immense liking for bamboo shoots, and how efforts are made into trying to preserve their wildlife habitat as far as possible. The pandas are solitary by nature, and they need to be given plenty of space, which of course is only a luxury these days. There were a couple of scenes where they had to be caged (for transportation purposes) and you can tell the bears are very much uncomfortable and distressed by it.
As an educational tool, you can get to learn a lot more about the Pandas in 100 minutes, such as how they contribute to their own dwindling numbers where they mate only once a year (miss the boat and it's another 365 days of waiting) and usually give birth to twins, where they would only nurture one of them and leave the other for naught. Naturally in the research facility some manipulation is done to ensure both babies get raised with equal attention and resource, and there are a lot more nuggets of information like these that will simply amaze you.
Why wait for Panda diplomacy in order to get up close and personal with these likable cuddly creatures? The film offers an opportunity not to be missed, so if you like to know more about the fact behind the fictional Kung Fu Panda (no, they don't do Kung Fu though they have tremendous strength), then this documentary would be right up your alley to understand more about this endangered species.