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Trail of the Panda
Trail of the Panda

Daichi Harashima and his furry friend in Trail of the Panda.


Year: 2009
Director: Zhong Yu  

Jean Chalopin, Jennifer L. Liu


Daichi Harashima, Zhang Qi, Feng Li

The Skinny: Simple and inoffensive family fare that should please kids and the adults babysitting them. The earnest patriotism is a bit much, but this is China+Disney so subtlety shouldn't be expected. Anyways, pandas rule.
by Kozo:

Disney attempts invasion of the China market again with the family-friendly drama Trail of the Panda. The Mouse House's second China production after the live-action/animated film The Magic Gourd, Trail of the Panda attempts a global marketing masterstroke through the presence of China's super-cute bamboo-eating national treasure, the Giant Panda. The filmmakers also multiply the cuteness factor by employing not just a Giant Panda, but an adorable Giant Panda cub. The only way this idea could be even more foolproof is if the panda knows kung-fu.

Told in flashback, the story concerns Lu (Daichi Harashima of Lost in Time), a young boy living in the mountains with his foster guardian Lao Chen (Zhang Qi). Lu has been mute since becoming an orphan, but his vocal cords reawaken when he meets an adorable Giant Panda cub pursued by Lao Chen and visiting panda researcher Feng (Feng Li). Since the mother panda has twin cubs, the researcher (perhaps mistakenly) thinks that one will receive inadequate care. As Lu looks on disapprovingly, Feng and Lao Chen pursue one cub, but lose him when rain falls and covers the panda’s tracks. The men retire for the evening while the panda, separated from his mother and sibling, fends for himself.

The day after, Lu happens upon the injured and sick panda cub, and within moments decides to protect him from Lao Chen and Feng. Naming the cub “Pang Pang”, Lu brings him to a deserted shack and goes about trying to hide his scent from the adults and pursuing dogs. What follows is an entertaining deception, as Lu splits his time between home and the shack, fearing the dogs and their keen senses, while also quietly lying to the adults. The men eventually venture deeper into the mountains to find other pandas, giving Lu the chance to earn the panda cub's friendship and trust. But Lu’s deception cannot remain a secret forever; eventually the men return, and Pang Pang is threatened with a life in captivity and permanent separation from his family.

Lacking the showy excesses of your typical Disney kid’s flick, Trail of the Panda proves to be solid, albeit underdeveloped family entertainment. Credit must go to the panda; seeing the young cub lope up and down the mountain, roll around in the grass, and generally act lazy is an uber-cute experience that should please just about anyone with a pulse. The Giant Panda is an undeniably charming creature, and the presence of three of them makes Trail of the Panda naturally pleasant. The human characters aren’t bad either; the conflicts and relationships are earnestly presented, with Zhang Qi and Daichi Harashima managing to give their surrogate father-son relationship some decent emotion. The film's righteous and honorable lessons are somewhat cloying, but ultimately don't distract from the film's genial, harmless feel.

The film sags in the middle when the adults leave the picture and the story loses its tension. But during that stretch there’s even more panda shenanigans, so whatever is lost in tension is compensated by sheer fuzzy watchability. Kids will likely enjoy the film simply for the panda, and adults should enjoy the mountain scenery, if not the panda too. Trail of the Panda ends with voiceover extolling the virtues of the Woolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan, China - a tacked on bit that feels more like a public service announcement than part of the narrative. Still, the coda is appropriate since the reserve's Panda Research Center provided the pandas for the film. Also, the reserve was devastated by the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, and the adult Giant Panda that played Pang Pang's mother was among the casualties. If Trail of the Panda is a bit too forthcoming with its earnest patriotism, that unexpected poignancy gives it cause. (Kozo 2009)


image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen