“Trail of the Panda” Films One of Sichuan’s Enduring Treasures


The only thing cuter than a kid is a panda.

By request, we’re posting on this film that was released last week, the second Disney-China coproduction, although definitely not the last, as the company eyes expansion into the Chinese market. The film was primarily shot at the famous Woolong Giant Panda Reserve, which you can’t purchase bus tickets to anymore from the larger Sichuan cities due to a lot of the road infrastructure being rebuilt. The scenery should emphasize the beauty of the western province. The fact that one of its stars, a panda named Mao Mao lost its life in the tragedy exactly one year ago, serves as a reminder of the tragedy. But mostly, I think it should instill in everyone a sense of hope and wanting to contribute to the rebuilding of the hardest-hit areas Sichuan like Woolong.


This was a great article from CRIEnglish that talks about the films conception to what they hope the film will achieve for the rebuilding of Wolong Reserve. It covers pretty much everything except for how much the film took in its box office, and that I didn’t find in any articles yet. However, with its target audience, general goodwill towards pandas, and Disney working behind the scenes for distribution, it shouldn’t be so hard to earn back production costs.

Set against the spectacular scenery of Siguniang Mountain, Balang Mountain and Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province, the film’s central character is an orphan named Lu, who finds a lost panda cub, carries his new friend on his back and starts a thrilling trip to return it to its mother.

“There were lots of documentaries about pandas but they were very factual,” says co-producer Jean Chalopin. “We wanted to introduce pandas emotionally to people, to touch their hearts.”

The film was conceived three years ago, when Chalopin read that one of the founders of the Wolong reserve had saved a panda during his childhood, forming a life-long bond between him and the animals. He and Jennifer Liu, the scriptwriter and CEO of Beijing-based Ying Dong Media, developed a story based on it, took it to Disney and quickly got a thumbs-up.

Filming started in Wolong, a three-hour drive from Chengdu, in February 2008 and took about three months.

The pandas featured in nearly every scene of the 90-minute film but the production crew found that once the cameras were rolling, they were not always that cute.

They came from China’s foremost panda research and preservation center, Wolong reserve, which allowed them to be used for a maximum 90 minutes a day in line with their strict routine of work and rest but insisted they were all accompanied by their exclusive raisers, who took care of feeding them and monitoring their moods.

“Pandas are national treasures. You cannot shout at them or beat them,” says director Yu Zhong. “The only thing we could do was wait for these superstars to be in the mood. It happened all the time – the cameras and lights were all set but then it was time for the pandas to eat, rest or take a shower.”

“They love as much to play as to sleep, so we had to follow their schedule all the time,” Liu adds.

One of the most troublesome scenes was when the panda, named Pang Pang in the film, was required to sleep in the sunshine.

Just when the weather was ideal, the crew was told its star was in the mood for playing around. Then, when it went to sleep and was carefully moved to the set, it woke up and started playing again. Other times, the crew celebrated when the panda fell asleep on the set, only for the weather to go cloudy or rainy.

The seemingly simple scene took a staggering 10 days to complete.

In another scene, Pang Pang was supposed to kiss Lu, played by Chinese-Japanese child actor Daichi Harashima, but simply would not oblige. The crew turned to professional animal trainers from Jacana Wildlife Studios, which was involved in the popular 1988 documentary “The Bear”. They wiped some honey on Harashima’s cheek and hey presto, the kiss was sealed.

Harashima, like most children his age, was a panda fan beforehand. He thinks the movie was the easiest and funniest of his three to date.

“I like pandas a lot because they just look very cute,” he says. “At first I was a bit scared of its sharp teeth and claws, but actually they are friendly animals. The first time I held a panda cub in my arms I found its hair was soft, not as hard as I was told. The filming was easier than my others, because I had few lines to recite. Most of the time I just played happily with the panda.”

Pang Pang was actually played by six panda cubs from Wolong but they look so similar, only their feeders will be able to tell them apart. The crew asked Wolong experts to help find six pandas to suit the various scenes. Some were active, others gentle, and one was especially good at climbing trees.

The crew started shooting with the oldest of the six so that the animal’s growth during shooting would not affect production.

Even so, Liu had to revise the script every day.

“Originally there were lots of action,” she says. “But when the shooting started I found that many actions were impossible for panda cubs, such as walking backwards. Pandas are precious animals who have been taken good care of by their raisers, so they are not scared of anything. It is difficult for them to show fear or other strong emotions.”

For Wolong director Zhang Hemin, the film was a win-win situation. “We agreed to this film because we think it will be a good platform to educate children about the importance of environmental preservation and the protection of wild animals,” he says.

The May 12 Sichuan earthquake last year killed panda Mao Mao, who played Pang Pang’s mother. Wolong itself was nearly destroyed by the quake and is still being rebuilt. All the six pandas who played Pang Pang are safe and have been relocated to zoos and reserves around China.

“We also hope that this film’s theatrical release just before the one-year anniversary will arouse people’s love for pandas and the re-building of the reserve,” Zhang says.

The film is Disney’s second collaboration with Chinese filmmakers, after the 2007 film “The Secret of the Magic Gourd”. Disney will also handle its distribution overseas.

By Liu Wei


Sina Source

13 thoughts on ““Trail of the Panda” Films One of Sichuan’s Enduring Treasures

  1. The movie was terrible and the kid was annoying. It would have made a better movie had it focused on the Panda vs the wild and humans than some kid whose angst ridden past to command the screen. Its feeble script writing. The french film l’Ours did this much better.

  2. but kids don’t care about the quality of artwork or the “intelligence” of the stories..Xi Yang Yang was a huge success even though the graphics were bleh and adults complained that it was boring…all the kids loved it.
    It’s only when you’re older that you care about these things. Disney isney, I feel like, is successful because it markets to adults and kids.

  3. I dont know. Disney movies do tend to be didactic and happy go lucky but its different to Chinese animated films. Maybe its not the fact that they are didactic and happy. Im not saying they have to be dark and violent but I would personally like to see some variety in the animation industry with some darker more violent stories targeted at adult audiences while still having the happier lighter stories for kids. Variety I believe is the key. Which reminds me… Chinese animation tends not to have much variety. Like I said, alot of didactic stories based on folklore and then copies of American and Japanese animation style. Also, Disney does the didactic happy thing very well. They’ve always done it well.

    Government approved Chinese cartoons on the other hand do it badly. Basically, their stories are boring with the same stuff over and over. Like ML said, Miyazaki’s films don’t treat kids like airheads- he puts himself in that same level as them as is he’s coming from their perspective. Chinese animation on the other hand leans more towards treating kids like their stupid or something. like “dont touch the fire or you’ll hurt yourself” kind of stuff. Its no wonder Chinese kids dont want to watch it. They also have work on the quality of their animation as I mentioned earlier. Right now, they need to find a way to incorporate a uniquely Chinese style into their art to make it stand out from Japanese and American animation. I do think they need to learn from Japan though, both in the storytelling department, and technical fields like animating and quality control. Seems alot of people, including myself think Chinese brush painting would work really well in Chinese animation. Actually, they used to do a primitive form of that in the 80s I think. You can check it out on youtube

  4. I like Miyazaki…even as someone older, I feel I can relate to them, when I was younger I use to wonder how the heck someone as old as him could understand what was going on inside a kid’s head. His films don’t treat kids like airheads- he puts himself in that same level as them as is he’s coming from their perspective. He has a magic factor many others don’t have. I also like his animation, it’s like a more refined fluid version of the anime you usually watch on tv. Though I’m not much for simplicity- disney can be beautiful… I miss the old disney so much.
    I don’t think china needs miyazaki like stories though… they should opt for their own style. Though I also don’t think China has simple non dark animation- I still remember that “black cat police” cartoon where the police cat shoots villans in the head and blood goes everywhere- it still airs today. And some cartoon I saw when channel surfing with japanese soldiers with pig faces and heros jumping of cliffs to avoid capture. (Some government intervention going on here)

    I think China has great potential in the future of animation- but their attempts at japanese style anime is pretty bad quality. In a way I kinda agree with Billy and in a way I don’t. I don’t think China needs to learn from disney or Japanese animation. they should fins their own style. and maybe better script writers.

    cute panda btw lol

  5. Artisticwise, I’m not really not fond of Miyazaki that much. Or Japanese animes. In animation, I really love simplicity and rounded cuteness, like the first season of pokemon or most of the older Disney movies.
    Japanese animes generally have that harsh, precise drawing that bothers me. Not as much as some American ones (ie. Chicken Little), but still fairly annoying.

    I would love shui muo hua, though.

  6. I totally disagree. I like Miyazaki very much, but Disney animated stories are the epitome of non-dark, didactic movies, without really complex themes. But they can be very, very good, and to some extent, I prefer the clean simplicity to Miyazaki.

    I think the Chinese market simply grew faster than the entertainment industry did, including animation, which is one of the most difficult art forms to get right in my opinion.

    I think Bao Liang Deng was very good in most aspects, a little raw, but pretty good. It was from the Shanghai Animation Film Studio I believe?
    But if someone were to get the ball moving…it definitely could be Disney. I just hope whoever does bring animation to life in China could retain that Chinese imagery I find so beautiful in those manhua pictures.

  7. Yeah, Chinese animation is weird. They definitely have a market for animation and talented artists but the stuff they produce ranges from utterly bad to so-so. Honestly, I think that Government censorship has alot to do with it. Chinese animation is just boring story wise. Kids dont want to see all those crappy didactic storylines that the government approves. They’d rather see well thought out interesting and unique storylines like those in Japanese anime like Deathnote. For their animation industry to grow, they are going to have allow it more freedom. Same goes for their movie industry of course. They probably should have their animators go out and study abroad in Japan or somewhere as well because though their hand drawn art is fine, they still lag in the actual animation department. I too would like to see something uniquely Chinese come out from the Chinese animation industry. Most of the stuff is either copying Japanese or American animation and drawing styles. Why not do some Chinese inkbrush kind of stuff? Also, instead of making boring didactic stories for children, why not try to expand the market with deeper stories for teens as well as adults. Look at Miyazaki’s stuff. Some of his stuff can be pretty violent, something you would never see in a Chinese animation, and it is wildly creative(often based on Japanese folklore and culture like some Chinese animated films) and deep with thematic depth. China needs a Miyazaki like animator to bring Chinese culture to the forefront and do for Chinese animation what Miyazaki did for Japanese animation and culture.

  8. Well, both Mulan and the panda movie were released after Titanic (97), which made a giant sum of money in China, about 45 million USD. So I was wondering if perhaps Disney or Warner Bros saw that and got ideas, but that’s not giving those enough credit.

    But it’s safe to say that Disney was already eyeing the Chinese market back then. I’m just glad that they are doing something about it from within China now. Maybe it’s due to childhood brainwashing (I’m a product of the Disney Renaissance) but I think Disney experience + already solid children entertainment sector in China could lead to something great. I know there are tons of artists in China, and if they could set up a large commercialized animation company to harness the talent and potential that I saw in “Bao Lian Deng” then that’d be amazing. I’d like to see some animated movies with beautifully drawn characters that look definitely Asian, like in those Chinese RPGs, you know what I mean?

  9. Oh….I always thought you meant the amazing Panda Adventure, which sounds a lot like this, except the kid is white. I was forced to watch it in an afterschool program and I remember it being very stereotypical and boring.

    It was released around the time Mulan came out and makes me wonder if film companies really overjudged China’s market back then.

Leave a Reply