BY AMANDA ROBERGE
As close as you live to Boston, it turns out you live just as close to Chengdu Panda Base, nestled in the breathtaking mountainside of China, where pandas tumble and play with their humans as part of an innovative endeavor to rehabilitate a declining species.
At the IMAX Theatre adjacent to the New England Aquarium, once you slip on your 3D glasses and take your seat in the theatre, you are instantly transported.
Among the pros of this little day trip: far less jet lag, no chance of losing your luggage, and thousands of American dollars cheaper than an actual trip to China.
It is in that dark theatre, in front of the largest movie screen in New England, where you will meet Qian Qian, a panda bear who is the subject of the 45 minute film, and the myriad humans involved in her growth and development, and inextricably invested in her freedom and survival.
The film, captured with IMAX cameras, follows Qian Qian on an exciting new adventure into the mountains of Sichuan as she experiences nature for the first time and discovers her wild side.
Your children will delight in the clumsy fun of the baby pandas and of the birds eye view of a faraway place, combined with the familiar narrative voice of Kristen Bell, who many kids will recognize as the voice of Ana from the blockbuster movie Frozen.
But as a parent, the story takes on new meaning. Seeing the scientists and researchers care for and get attached to the pandas feels eerily validating, and watching the creatures grow older and establish themselves as independent beings will tug at the heartstrings of the mother with even the most difficult teen.
This, apparently, is entirely by design. For filmmaker Drew Fellman, a lifetime of watching cartoons -- the kind with the "adult humor" that appeal equally to kids and grown-ups -- has been an underlying element of everything he puts on the big screen.
"So much of this movie is designed to appeal to children, but some of the issues are sure to resonate with parents," he explained. "I became enthralled with the story of Qian Qian and how real the relationships are with the humans in her life."
Without spoiling the entire plot line of Qian Qian's life and tribulations, it can be summed up in a line uttered in the movie by Jake Owens, the conservation biologist who becomes on of her protector's and champions as he works with a team of others -- including New Hampshire's own "Bear Whisperer" Ben Kilham -- to help her get ready for life beyond the safety of the base.
"She was ready for a world without fences," he says, adding that she was already in possession of the three qualities scientists had identified as giving her a great chance to survive: Climbing ability, Curiosity and Courage.
And later, in an interview with baystateparent, when asked if the thousands of miles of distance helps him to put his relationship with Qian Qian in the back of his mind, he sounds even more the devoted dad: "I wish I could shut it off. I can't. It's impossible to separate yourself."
Is this tugging at your fragile parent-heart yet?
For Kilham, who works with his wife to rehabilitate black bears in the woods of New Hampshire and was a valuable resource for scientists and researchers looking to do the same with pandas, so much of the care they provide to the bears is as rewarding as it might be for others to raise -- and release -- their humans.
One of the first bears he successfully released, Squirty, will still offer Ben hugs and affection when they come across each other in the woods -- a striking piece of footage that can be seen in the IMAX movie.
"The trust you develop with the bears is something that doesn't go away," he said, "even after they go wild."
The film, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and IMAX, will be released in select IMAX(R) and IMAX(R) 3D theaters starting in April. The film is rated G. Tickets and times can be found here.