Ryan Tyler (Ryan Slater, Christian's half-brother) is a rather bratty American kid upset that his Disappeared Dad (Stephen Lang) has spent the last two years working with pandas. One day, Ryan is sent to China to visit his father's panda reserve. There, he meets his father's associate Chu (Wang Fei) and Chu's young granddaughter/interpreter Ling (Yi Ding of The Joy Luck Club). After a mishap with a Rope Bridge, Ryan, Ling, and a panda cub are separated from the adults. For the rest of the film, the adults try to find the kids, the kids try to find their way back to the panda reserve, and Evil Poachers try to get ahold of the panda cub. And the main characters have to get the panda cub to the reserve or else it will be closed down by Obstructive Bureaucrats.
This film provides examples of:
- Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: The scene with Ryan and Ling have to strip down to remove the leeches, leading to awkward wisecracking about being naked, serves no other apparent narrative purpose than to get the film a PG rating.
- Big Eater: Ryan's friend Johnny, who snacks on discarded convenience store candy, and hopes Ms. Tyler is serving mashed potatoes and gravy. Later on, Ryan tells Ling that Johnny is most likely to be best in the lunchroom.
- Bilingual Bonus: When Ryan and Ling bring the panda cub to the village, they are joyfully welcomed. Later on, when Ryan and Ling decide on a name, Ryan names the cub Johnny; Ling remarks that Johnny means "the best in the forest".
- Blunt Metaphors Trauma: Ling, a couple times. When she explains an ancient Chinese legend about the panda, Ryan says that it's "bull" and Ling replies that no, the story is about a panda. When Ryan claims rather outrageously to be a "lady's man", Ling interprets it as "half lady, half man".
- Daddy Didn't Show: Dr. Tyler forgets to pick up Ryan at the airport.
- Evil Poacher: Shong and Po, the movie's villains, aren't just poachers but are trapping endangered species on a protected wildlife reserve.
- Friend to All Living Things: Ryan becomes one to the panda cub that he protects (and later names after his friend Johnny); Ryan, Ling and "Johnny" are given a warm, friendly reception by the Tibetan village, who consider the panda's presence a good sign.
- Green Aesop: Pandas are in danger of going extinct, as the film repeatedly reminds us. (The situation has improved since the time when the film was made, with them being taken off the endangered species list in 2016.)
- Hand Gagging: Chu does this to Ryan when Ryan cluelessly calls out to the poachers for help.
- I Choose to Stay: At the end, Ryan decides to stay in China for the whole summer.
- Instant Leech: Just Fall in Water!: After getting swept down a river (for the second time!), Ryan and Ling emerge covered in leeches. This prompts them to frantically strip off all their clothes and run into a river, leading to a scene of naked awkwardness between the young boy and girl.
- Made of Iron: Over and over again, Ryan and Ling (not to mention the panda) go through crazy stunts which should kill or severly injury them, but which they survive without a scratch.
- Malaproper: Ling's attempt at insulting Ryan.Ling: You are a Mormon!
Ryan: I think you mean "moron".
- Mood Whiplash: At one point, we're treated to a scene of the mother panda walking, her cub frolicking adorably, gentle music, and then BOOM. Mother's in a trap and both are utterly terrified.
- No Name Given: The poachers aren't named in the film itself, but the credits identify them as Shong and Po.
- Panda-ing to the Audience: Practically the whole movie, starting with the title, is about the eponymous adorable critters; without the pandas, it would just be another adventure set in China.
- Reality Has No Subtitles: There's a good deal of Mandarin in the film, none of which is subtitled. Everything we need to understand is either translated by Ling or is obvious from context.
- Scenery Porn: Jiuzhaigou Valley is spectacular and they Shot the Money.
- This Loser Is You: Ryan is a self-centered, materialistic brat and the person whom the child audience is meant to relate to.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Ryan and Ling head for the clear water when they find themselves covered in leeches.