This panda drama has a lot of heart.

Released September 22. Actors: Aaron Schuppan, Brendan Cowell, Lily Pearl. Director: Victoria Cocks. Produced by Epic Films, which provided an advance screening of this film.

The concept behind the production of Wastelander Panda, which follows humanoid pandas across a post-apocalyptic setting, is admittedly ridiculous. But it’s no more ridiculous than Planet of the Apes, and even though Wastelander has a lot less CGI, the finished product works.

Wastelander creates a believable post-apocalyptic setting that feels like it’s been pulled from Fallout, Mad Max, or Borderlands. (In fact, the setting works so well, that Arcayus the panda actually has a cameo in Borderlands 2.) The setting, in part shot in Australia’s Flinders Ranges, has an otherworldly feel that works perfectly and when combined with great costuming and solid acting, creating a world that feels real and lived in. It helps, too, that the story plays it completely straight, never falling into camp or self-parody.

The Wastelander series is made up of several parts, starting with a short prologue, then the three-episode Wastelander Panda Chronicles, and now the new six-episode Wastelander Panda: Exile. All of the episodes are available online, and most of them are short — Chronicles episodes are about 15 minutes each, while Exile episodes are just 10 minutes.

I caught the premiere of Exile at Fantastic Fest and I can report that the series is a lot of fun, and fans of dark post-apocalyptic drama are likely to enjoy it whether they like pandas or not. Exile follows Isaac — brother of Arcayus, who was the focus of the earlier episodes — as he treks out into the wastelands to find a young girl. It’s not any kind of mythical quest of bravery: Isaac killed a child at the start of the series and will be put to death himself if he doesn’t find a replacement. In exchange, he and his family will be welcomed back into the tribe where they’ve made their home.

Yes, we’re basically watching a panda on a quest to kidnap a human child. The series doesn’t shy away from violence and isn’t for the faint of heart. From the very beginning, we know that the hot-headed Isaac is capable of murder, and life in the wasteland only encourages further violence. From this point, not much goes right for Isaac. He teams up with a group of bounty hunters whom he helps in exchange for their help collecting a child… but when he’s betrayed he finds himself relying on the child he’d intended to kidnap to get away… and the bodycount just keeps rising from there.

Bottom Line: I went into this expecting camp, but what I found was a compelling hour of drama… that just happens to feature pandas.

Recommendation: If you enjoy post-apocalyptic settings and the dark stories they tell, chances are you’ll enjoy this. And since it’s a relatively short time commitment that’s easily available online, why not? You can find early episodes on YouTube while Exile can be streamed from the series website.


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