Disneynature’s latest explores three big-cat families as they fight for survival and supremacy.
After two successful documentaries released on Earth Day, the next documentary in Disney’s sequence delves into the heart of the Kenyan savannah. African Cats presents the lives of two rival lion prides and a cheetah struggling to raise her five cubs. Unlike the removed, voice-of-God narration of Earth and Oceans, the film documents life in the Masai Mara National Reserve by naming characters and creating a detailed dramatic plot.
As a result, the film does not only present its audience with striking footage but adds unlikely character and plot development. The lioness walking into the camera in one of the earliest scenes is introduced as “Layla,” the eldest and most dominant female in the southern pride. It is this personal touch that elevates the film to simultaneously captivating and relatively absurd.
At first, the dramatized action is laughable — something guaranteed to capture the attention of your 5–year–old brother but distract audiences hoping to see documentary–style footage. However, as the plot develops and action heightens, it becomes hard to remain emotionally detached from the action on screen. Lost cubs and treacherous river crossings leave the audience entranced, and battles between prides will cause theatergoers on each side of the aisle to take sides.
Directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey piece together the footage seamlessly. Cuts to other savannah animals give the impression of intricate relationships between species and highlight the delicate balance of life in the natural world. The story is made all the more cohesive with the guidance of Samuel L. Jackson’s narration. Jackson gives the steady voice that provides everything from peeks into the survival of each species, to the personal plotlines of the cats—who become complex characters.
The concept of accepting animals as personified characters in a documentary may need to be taken with a grain of salt, especially due to a less-than-brilliant script. But whether you are open to a dramatized plot or not, the shots presented in African Cats make the film well worth any animal-lovers time. Brilliant shots of action-filled hunts and interactions between animals keep the viewer guessing as to how the footage could have possibly been achieved. It is this exposure to jaw-dropping images that makes this year’s Earth Day flick worth experiencing.
Directed by: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey
Rated G, 89 min.