'Pandas' Narrator Kristen Bell Reveals What Surprised Her About the Bears

Kristen Bell - 2018 Pandas Premiere - Getty - H 2018
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The new Imax film features one panda's journey, as experts from China and America help her transition from captivity to living in the wild.

Kristen Bell says there were a few things she learned about panda bears while narrating the new documentary Pandas.

"I was surprised to learn humans were more of a threat to pandas than their natural predators because of deforestation, but I was also surprised by how inspiring conservation scientists are, who work across cultural lines and across countries to share information with each other," Bell told The Hollywood Reporter at the March 17 premiere of the film.

The Good Place actress was in great spirits as she briefly cradled a stuffed panda for pictures outside the bustling TCL Chinese Theatre Imax on Hollywood Boulevard.

"I take my kids to see Imax films at the Science Center and all across the city, they are incredibly well-made and educational and have great stories. I didn't know much about pandas, the facts of their population or how vulnerable they are, so everything about this was a yes for me," Bell told THR.

The film follows the real-life experience of how a team of scientists in China that adopts a reintroduction technique inspired by a black bear rehabilitator in rural New Hampshire. The film's prominent theme of cross-cultural collaboration and activism whipped up excitement among the filmmakers, who were eager to share efforts made in preparing captive-born cubs for release in the wild.

Dr. Jake Owens, who grew up exploring wildlife around the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, moved to China to further the initiative with the chosen panda cub, Qian Qian.

"I spend all my time either in an office with data writing papers or out in the field following pandas around or doing data collection, so this is very odd. I wasn't sure how they would react to the crew," Owens told THR, noting, "They would go out there and say, 'We'd like her to out in this area because it has good lighting' and I would be like, 'I have no idea if she would do that,' surprisingly I think they got every shot they wanted to get.”

The team was able to study Ben Kilham’s work raising motherless black bear cubs to become self-sufficient for inspiration. 

The film shows Kilham’s great success, a wild bear named Squirty, who is 22 and has had 11 litters. Despite her transition, Squirty still allows Kilham to adjust her tracking collar.

David Douglas and Drew Fellman, the filmmakers behind Born to Be Wild and Island of Lemurs: Madagascar, directed the film, which Fellman wrote and produced, with Douglas as director of photography.

Fellman said, "One thing that surprised me was how good pandas smell — they smell like bamboo ice cream.”