Disney hops 'Panda' express

Chinese production had close call with quake

Disney will handle worldwide marketing and distribution for the tentatively titled Chinese feature "Touch of the Panda," now nearing completion in the earthquake-stricken Sichuan province, executives said Monday at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

While not a co-production, Disney served as a creative consultant during preproduction on the film about an abandoned panda cub rescued by an orphan.

Produced by Castle Hero Pictures and Beijing-based Ying Dong Media, "Panda" began shooting in March in the Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve. It was nearly finished when, on May 12, a 7.9 quake hit, killing more than 70,000 people.

Twenty-eight members of the film's second unit, including one American, were forced to escape on foot, leaving B-roll and equipment behind, Jason Reed, executive vp Walt Disney Studios Mo-tion Picture Production, told The Hollywood Reporter. The crew was out of contact for three days.

"They were a little shaken ... but everyone was safe," Reed said. "They had to hike out through some of the mountains (before) they were rescued by the Chinese military."

Eventually, filmmakers were able to recover most of their footage.

"Panda" is scheduled to be released in February. (partialdiff)