Is there anything cuter than a baby panda? John Krasinski doesn’t think so (and neither do we).
The actor narrates the latest Disneynature film Born in China (tickets are on sale now, opens April 21), in which we get a bird’s-eye view of gorgeous, mysterious and untouched landscapes filled with endearing animal inhabitants. Filmed in the Chinese countryside, Born in China follows three stories – an elusive snow leopard mom trying to provide for her two cubs in the barren mountains, a majestic mother panda and her young daughter in the bamboo forest, and a golden monkey adolescent coping with family issues.
Krasinski spoke with Fandango about how honored he was to be a part of the Disneynature family, joking he felt it was a little unfair he had the cutest animals in his movie, and how the conservation efforts behind these movies are so inspiring.
Fandango: These Disneynature films just keep getting better and better.
John Krasinski: They are the best, aren’t they? They are really incredible. I think it’s one of the best narratives going. You can put them up against any script and they’ll hang, if not beat it.
Fandango: So true. How did this project fall into your lap?
Krasinski: I was lucky enough to have Disney call me and ask if I’d be the voice of this, which is incredible because a) they had no idea how obsessed I am with these films and b) I’d be next in line after the pantheon of people like Morgan Freeman, Meryl Streep and John C. Reilly. I was blown away they wanted me to do this.
Fandango: There are a lot of funny instances in the film. How did you find that balance between the comedic moments and the serious ones?
Krasinski: [We/the producers] talked a little about our theories on comedy and drama, and I think we both agreed that drama and comedy are both played the same way. They are completely different outlets for sure, but the stakes are interestingly the same. What I really admired about what they do, with no experience going in or had not discussed it with them, I probably would have aired on playing this more adorable, or cuter. Sort of lean into the images that you see.
Instead, what’s so beautiful about these movies is that they have such deference and respect for these creatures and for the landscapes in which they live that it came across as very powerful to me. I realize this is one of the reasons why I love these movies so much, is that they don’t pander to anyone. I really took the job seriously.
Fandango: Was the film complete when they brought you in? What was the process?
Krasinski: Yeah, it was, it was cut together, and I got to see before I went in there. It was just so incredibly moving. I think I put way too quickly personifications on these animals. I attribute human emotion and characteristics way too quickly. I was so emotionally involved in the movie. I’m not a hard cry, I can tell you that. It’s not hard to make me cry, so they had me at the opening.
Fandango: Between snow leopard cubs, a baby panda and the cute monkeys, where do you even begin?
Krasinski: Where do you go? I mean, someone asked me, “Do you think you have the cutest animals in your movie?” I said yeah, but I think it’s cheating when you have a baby panda. So, I apologize to Meryl and Morgan and John C. Reilly, but at the end of the day, I have a baby panda. It’s like bringing a ringer to the game. You’re not allowed to do that.
Prepare to squee
Fandango: The nature photographers and cinematographers who so painstakingly made this film are nothing short of amazing in their dedication, would you agree?
Krasinski: These guys are not only shooting a film, they’re doing it to preserve the well-being of these animals. So everyone involved is not just making a cool film like we do in Hollywood. They are doing a cool film that has so much heart and power behind it. I think that it’s what you need. To get into a hole in a middle of a mountain and wait there for three days to get a shot of a baby snow leopard is a dedication that very few of us have or know. And it comes from some place more than just trying to get a good shot. These people really care and love these animals. It’s so inspiring.
Fandango: Are you dying to go to China now?
Krasinski: Oh, absolutely. Maybe not into those high mountains because I’d probably die instantly. No matter what, bringing attention to these animals, these landscapes and environments is always so important. Not only for the animals, but I was also blown away by China. I’m so honored to be a part of it because of the work these movies do. They are not just making people say, “Awww,” which is great, but it also makes people think about what they can do to preserve life like this.
“To get into a hole in a middle of a mountain and wait there for three days to get a shot of a baby snow leopard is a dedication that very few of us have or know.”
Fandango: What are some of the other Disneynature films you’ve loved the most?
Krasinski: I’ve seen them all. I think there first one was Earth? Or Oceans? It was either underwater or on land, I can’t remember, but those were pretty epic. I also remember Africa Cats really well. I saw that at the Arclight in L.A. I’m usually there on opening weekend. I don’t mess around. I see them pretty much right away because that’s how obsessed I am with those.
Fandango: Was there one particular storyline you felt closest to? I’m guessing the monkeys.
Krasinski: It’s funny, you’d think I’d connect with the monkeys because I’m ridiculous, but as a new parent, there was something about the snow leopard story. I think the idea of what it takes to be a parent and the commitment level that has no ends and no bounds was really incredibly moving to me. What that mother went through for her cubs is a nice reminder and/or lesson to keep reminding ourselves of what true love is. And what true parenthood – what sacrifice and commitment it really takes. It was beautiful for me.
Fandango: Disney has been such a champion for the environment, which we desperately need now more than ever. Are you inspired?
Krasinski: I’ve donated to the World Wildlife Fund for a long time now. They are a wonderful bet, a no-brainer, and in the first week of the film’s opening, they are going to make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund if you buy a ticket to see the movie. That sounds like a fun, smart, sweet ploy and publicity stunt, but the truth is it has nothing to do with publicity. I love that Disney puts their money where their mouth is and actually want to support. And also instead of just donating, because they could just donate a lump sum of money, they are encouraging you to get involved.
Fandango: What are you hoping children after seeing Born in China will walk away with?
Krasinski: Many things. The first thing to realize is how big the world is, and to be inspired by that and not scared by it. Realize there’s so much to know and learn and see. Push the limits of all the questions they are asking and make sure you’re out there on the forefront of learning and learning for yourself, not just being told. Every one of these movies is a world that you can go visit yourself. Not just in these movies, but you can go see things in your backyard and experience real life all around you.
And secondly, respecting and taking care of the world around you. It’s not ever going to be taken care of for us, it’s something we have to participate in together. There’s a tremendous amount of hope with kids going to see these movies. The hope that the enthusiasm people have for these movies translate into action.
Born in China opens April 21.