Disneynature has surprised its fans with another behind the scenes documentary about the making of Born in China called Expedition China. Last summer brought Ghost of the Mountains, a digital release that followed a team of cinematographers as they attempted to find and capture footage of a snow leopard family for the first time. Expedition China fills in the gaps by showing how footage was captured of the other amazing animals in Born in China, such as pandas, snub-nosed monkeys, and red crowned cranes.

This documentary is narrated by Maggie Q from ABC’s Designated Survivor. The film begins with a brief recap of the struggles displayed in Ghost of the Mountains before introducing Dr. Paul Stewart, Director of Cinematography for the Red Crowned Crane footage. Because the film was bookended by these animals and their mythology, it was crucial that he find a live nest and capture the birth of their chicks. They get very little screen time in the film itself, but get ample time here.

Next, the film travels to high elevations to join Justin Maguire, Director of Cinematography for the Snubbed-Nosed Monkeys. There’s extra footage of Tao Tao as a baby, which was left out of the film. Moving even higher, we meet Rolf Steinman, Director of Photography for the Chirru footage. This species is recovering from the brink of extinction and the film crew had to deal with poachers during the shoot.

Ya Ya and Mei Mei, the star pandas of Born in China, are the focus of the next section where we are reconnected with Dr. Paul Stewart as he leads a team capturing footage of pandas in the wild. To make filming possible, the camera crew had to dress up in panda suits in order to get close to these gentle giants. The narration also dives into the challenges of finding a panda with a cub.

After establishing the crews and their subjects, the film takes audiences through each season and the challenges that both the animals and filmmakers faced. It also highlights some other animals not seen in the film, including the Himalayan Blue Bear, who is believed to be the origin of the infamous legend of the Yeti. In total, the team spent 1,000 combined days filming in China and their efforts are seen in Born in China, but you can find out what it was like to be behind the camera with Expedition China.

A documentary about the making of a documentary is unique fodder for a film, and a sequel to that documentary is even more rare. Bonus feature junkies will want to experience Expedition China and fans of Born in China can make it a trilogy. This was a unique release model and I’m curious to see if Disneynature will repeat it in 2018 with Dolphins.

Bonus Features

  • Masters of Camouflage (4:56) – Director of Photography Shane Moore leads a crew 16,000 feet above sea level to find an elusive family of snow leopards. Quite a bit of the footage is recycled from the feature-length documentary Ghost of the Mountains and it even ends with a promo for that documentary. This bonus feature was also included with the purchase of Born in China.
  • Disneynature: Get Inspired, Get Involved (1:18) – A pat on the back to fans who have seen Disneynature films in theaters or own them on home video for their contributions to the Disney Conservation Fund.
  • Disneynature Dolphins Sneak Peek (1:09) – A trailer for the next Disneynature film, which comes to theaters Earth Day 2018.


Expedition China is available in 1080p High Definition through most digital providers. I reviewed this film on an Apple TV through iTunes and the picture presentation looked stunning. Disneynature films are known for their breathtaking cinematography and this is another shining example.


The only audio option is an English 5.1 surround mix. The only subtitle option is English.

Final Thoughts

Disneynature Expedition China is a great behind the scenes documentary about what it took to make the film Born in China. If your favorite parts of that film were the pandas, monkeys, and antelope, you’ll get to see more of them, learn more about their habitat, and the painstaking measures the crew went through to capture this footage. Paired with Ghost of the Mountains, Expedition China gives audiences a thorough overview of the filmmakers’ journeys in China.

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