Few things are more universal than cute panda videos. Even people who can resist the internet's most infectious silly cat videos melt in the face of an insanely cute panda bear rolling around hugging himself in a Facebook share. The California Science Center embraces this inescapable truth with a full-on bear hug. This past weekend the museum's IMAX theater debuted the movie Pandas, a nature documentary for the whole family. Imagine the cutest collection of baby panda clips ever made. Now imagine them in 3D on a screen seven stories tall. It's a level of cute few people can handle, but we all should try.
Pandas is the tale of an ambitious project in China, breeding pandas in captivity, then introducing the cubs into the wild to help expand the wild panda population. The premise starts out pretty darn adorable, with tumbling, frolicking, bottle-sucking baby pandas growing into big, huggable toddlers before our eyes. The film then follows the adventures of one panda, Qian Qian (pronounced Chen Chen), as she embarks on her adventure in the forest, with the support of caring naturalists from both China and the US.
The appeal is obvious, and I doubt I have to say much more to persuade that this is a film full of cuddly "Awwww!" moments. The big question with anything we put on an enormous screen in front of tender little eyes is whether there is anything scary, and in this case there is precious little. Qian Qian does have a close call out there in the wild and needs to be rescued, but kids can go in with the peace of mind that everything works out just fine. Her misadventures largely happen off screen; she is recued with an injury at one point, and I heard one toddler talking through his concern for the bite she sustained, but having a grown-up bandage an owie is pretty familiar territory to most tots.
Kristen Bell, the voice of Anna in Frozen, is a friendly, inviting presence to act as host on the adventure, making the whole experience warm, fuzzy, and irresistible to kids of all ages. Personally, I brought a teen, and I can attest that even teenage boys are not immune to the cute factor of Pandas. Honestly, my only complaint was that the movie was too short. Forty minutes is not nearly long enough for me to have my fill of panda cuteness.
Pandas runs twice daily at the IMAX Theater at the California Science Center.