A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this live-action animal adventure, which follows a young American boy who ends up saving a panda cub, features some mild peril and threatening villians. The 10-year-old protagonist and his friend, a Chinese girl, face realistic panda poachers on several occasions and plummet dangerously into a river, as well as evade gun-wielding criminals as they attempt to travel back to safety. Kids will learn about pandas, Chinese folklore, and the unconditional nature of father-son relationships.
What's the story?
American tween Ryan (Ryan Slater) spends his spring break visiting his workaholic zoologist father, Michael (Stephen Lang), in China, where he runs a nature preserve for giant pandas. To save the preserve from being shut down by the government, Michael and his colleagues must show that they're caring for at least one cub, but the only cub they've spotted is captured by poachers. Trying to prove himself worthy, Ryan and his father's young Chinese translator, Ling (Yi Ding), end up rescuing the cub, whom they eventually name Johnnie. They overcome several obstacles -- including falls in a river and close calls with the poachers -- to find their way back to the preserve with the baby panda.
Is it any good?
Probably the best thing about this movie is the pandas themselves. Through a combination of footage of real pandas and animatronic animals, the black-and-white animals steal the show from their live-action co-stars. The animals easily outshine the humans, especially the kids, who are alternately funny and overly precious (the scene where they both disrobe after being covered with leeches is also just bizarre and unnecessary). It's odd to see Lang, who's now best known as the crazy colonel in Avatar, 15 years younger and playing a father. He does his best to explain the importance of saving the pandas, but the movie ultimately rests on the shoulders of the two child actors.
Animal adventures, especially those featuring baby animals, are sure to tug at the heartstrings, and this one has the added drama of a dangerous crew of poachers trying to track down the kids and the panda cub. But the story feels a bit slow at times, especially when it comes down to the kids, who interact rather awkwardly with each other, even as they're supposed to grow into great friends. The action sequences, however, will intrigue children, and the pandas will draw in animal-loving audiences.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's message about endangered animals. What can all of us do to help ensure the safety of animals like the giant panda? How does the movie make the plight of the panda sympathetic?
What do you think about the choices that Ryan and Ling make to save the panda? Are they realistic? Would you have done something similar?
- In theaters: August 25, 1995
- On DVD or streaming: September 2, 2002
- Cast: Ryan Slater, Stephen Lang, Yi Ding
- Director: Christopher Cain
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Wild Animals
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: adventure action and brief mild language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.