Disneynature's African Cats is the Perfect Way To Celebrate Earth Day!
The film is simply titled African Cats and focuses on a select stretch of land located in the Mara Preserve in Kenya. This particular piece of land is divided by a large winding river separating most of the large predators from one another. The first group of cats is the Southern River Pride, led by the male lion known as Fang. He protects a pride of five lionesses and their cubs, all of which are his. With the overabundance of wildebeests in the area, food is plentiful for this large group.
On the opposite side of the river we meet Seta. She is a cheetah who has just given birth to five cubs of her own. With the father out of the picture she is raising these babies on her own. She hunts the gazelle that graze in the area and being the sole provider of food for her cubs, this can make life more difficult for her family. The film jumps back and forth between each group, slowly developing the narrative that is playing out for all of them. Like any good film, there are elements of drama, love and comedy. The drama for these animals is the day to day hardships they deal with. For Fang and his pride it is the threat from other males looking to take over his small "kingdom". This comes in the form of Kali and his four young sons, who continually make attempts to conquer Fang's territory.
Seta hardships come in the form of threats from other predators, finding food for her children and teaching her children how to fend for themselves when the time comes. As the year moves along, the herd of wildebeests moves away from their grazing area searching for more fertile pastures. This leaves Fang and his pride without a plentiful food source, so now they must look where ever they can to find food for their cubs. Sometimes they are lucky and find a stray carcass along the river bank. Again, this brings danger because the river is inhabited by crocodiles, and while they may not be much of a threat on land, they are unchallenged in the river.
When Seta and her cubs decide the make their way across the river, they do so with great risk, for at any moment a crocodile could strike and that would be the end of any one of them. This documentary is no valentine, so for anyone hoping to see a heartwarming and children friendly tale, don't be fooled. While there are many moments that will make most people "ooo" and "aww", there are many other moments are well that may frighten you or bring tears to your eyes. That is the way of nature though, to assume it is any other way is simply a naïve notion left for animated features aimed at young children.
The movie is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and while his voice does have a unique style to it, it doesn't quite hit the mark during most of the film. What does work quite well is the way in which it is shot. It is obvious that Disney, once again, used the latest in film techniques to capture these stunning moments. The picture is incredibly sharp and clear, so much so that you almost forget you're watching a film at times. The same goes for the audio quality, if you are able, see this film in a theater that has a good sound system. You will want to get the full effect like when the male lions are facing off against one another; you can almost feel the vibration from their roars.
African Cats is an excellent documentary film showcasing the lives of some of the most well-known animals by giving them a narrative that we can relate to. It's always fun to take a moment to look at nature and remind ourselves that at one point we lived in the wild just like these animals still do and while we may not give it much thought, it's something to think about it once in a while.
-- Chris Rebholz