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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ghost of the Mountains is a Disneynature documentary about snow leopards. The title is a reference to the big cats' elusiveness and uncanny ability to seamlessly blend into their mountainous habitat, allowing them to stalk prey and protect their young. The film takes viewers along on an international film crew's long, hazardous quest to record this endangered species in the wild. Their specific goal is to capture the life of a mother snow leopard and her babies in their remote natural environment. Animal-loving kids will be treated to the stark beauty of the harsh Chinese terrain, the highest plateau on Earth, and the magnificence of the cats that survive in the mountains. Cats hunt prey, but no actual attacks are shown. Vultures, hawks, and other predators threaten the safety of a lone cub. This is part of Disney's Born in China documentary series.
What's the story?
An international film crew ventured into the remote, mountainous Chinese habitat of the GHOST OF THE MOUNTAINS, the snow leopard. The trip is long and arduous, impossible without the expertise and wisdom of local crew members who know the harsh, frigid, high-altitude terrain and how to survive in it. The crew must stop and rest for the night after every 1,600 feet of elevation they climb to avoid altitude sickness, as described by narrator Antoine Fuqua. At camp, temperatures drop to 20 below, with nothing but an uninsulated cabin and stove to warm them. They fight sudden weather shifts and endure long weeks without sighting the cats, displaying monumental patience through a more than 250-day adventure. Snow leopards are nearly impossible to find in the wild, but patience pays off as the crew not only tracks and films snow leopards but also becomes the first to capture on film a mother and cubs in their natural habitat. The team records snow leopards stalking prey, but the hungry and increasingly skinny cats repeatedly fail to catch a meal. It's reported that some cats have attacked herds of sheep and yak owned by locals, but no carnage is shown. One carcass is shown after an attack. Buddhist monks, scattered in monasteries throughout the remote mountains, act as stewards of snow leopard safety and survival, playing important conservationist roles.
Is it any good?
This is an absorbing film that is as likely to encourage adventurous wannabe documentary makers as it is to delight animal lovers. Director of photography Shane Moore displays sensitivity and compassion for the crew's subjects, the elusive snow leopards, by backing off in crucial moments. He challenges his team to be wary of the effects of the Heisenberg Principle, which posits that the mere fact of human observation can influence and change the observed, sometimes for the worse. When a mother snow leopard is separated from one of her cubs, Moore packs up and leaves the scene rather than stay, which could risk endangering the cub with his presence. His good judgment is rewarded when the crew returns the next day to find the cubs are both safely with their mother. Young viewers may want to talk about the emotional ordeal of shifting their empathy from the magnificent predator snow leopards who are starving in the wild to the sheep and other prey who lose their lives to keep the endangered cats alive. The ruthlessness of the wild is well illustrated in Ghost of the Mountains.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Ghost of the Mountains' emotional ordeal of shifting empathy from the magnificent predator snow leopards who are starving in the wild to the sheep and other prey who may lose their lives to keep the endangered cats alive.
Why do you think the camera crew talk about trying to gain the trust of the snow leopards? How does the documentary capture the animals without invading their space and affecting their natural behaviors?
The crew set out to make a film about elusive snow leopards as they behave in the wild, but did they also make a film about how difficult that goal was? Patience was key to capturing the cats on film. What other traits and actions do you think made it possible for the team to succeed?
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