Next up in my review of the Disneynature films is African Cats. It marks a change in the canon on how the films are told. The previous films have been more standard documentaries. In African Cats we get an attempt at a narrative with character names ascribed to the animals and a supposed story they are telling. If you read my review of Monkey Kingdom which I did out of order they totally describe a social structure, conflict and personality to the monkeys. I don’t know how much of that is hogwash but it does make the films more accessible for the average moviegoer that does not like documentaries.
African Cats tells the story of 2 families of ‘cats’ a single mom Cheetah named Sita with 5 cubs, and Mara and her mother Layla who are lionesses part of a pride. Like with the monkeys they attempt to show a contrast between the lonely isolated cheetahs and the pack of lions that do everything together.
Most of the movie is both cheetahs and lions trying to get food. As both species are carnivores this means it is the most bloody of any of the Disneynature films I’ve seen to date. Many animals are hunted and eaten with blood on the faces of the lions and cheetahs. This might be upsetting to very small children but I asked my friends and they all agreed their kids can handle it.
The little cubs are so cute that it helps with those scenes. Plus, the lions face their own foe that wants to eat them when they have to cross a river filled with crocodiles. As my friend said “they get the whole “circle of life” thing”…
Speaking of circle of life I am a little surprised there wasn’t more analogies made to the Lion King. I think James Earl Jones might have been a cool narrator instead of Samuel L Jackson. Since they are doing a narrative it might have been fun to have a few winks at Lion King or maybe some of the music thrown in?
Let’s start with the many positives of African Cats. It looks amazing. How they were able to get some of these shots I will never know. You are watching these lions tear apart a zebra from limb to limb or a cheetah chase down an antelope or jackle and wondering how the filmmakers aren’t completely terrified?
The vistas of the African safari are stunning. You get these amazing panning shots of herds of wildebeests and the cheetah sprinting at an insane pace. Practically every shot I was left wondering ‘how the heck did they do that?’ and it almost looks fake it is so good.
Also the question of the pride over the cheetah being solo has an interesting dimension for talking with kids about being self-reliant vs relying on others. Working together vs being strong on your own. Both have value and can be a functional part of nature as we see with the cheetahs and the lions.
If the scenes of carnage are a little much it could also be a chance to discuss nature with your children which is a good learning opportunity.
The downsides to African Cats is at 89 minutes it is definitely too long. It could have had a good 15 minutes cut and not missed a beat. There were sections where I started to lose interest- maybe we have one hunting sequence too many?
My other flaw is the narration can feel a little forced and heavy handed. You can tell they were just testing out the adding a story to nature thing and there were segments I wished I could turn the narration off and just watch the animals. I was not emotionally invested in the story like I was with the flamingo movie (still the best of Disneynature by a considerable margin) Crimson Wing. Samuel L Jackson is fine as the narrator but I don’t know if he has the gravitas needed for a project like this. He sometimes seemed a little bored.
But flaws aside it is a beautiful film about some of God’s most amazing creatures. The power of the lion and the speed of cheetah are awe inspiring.
Overall Grade- B
What about you guys? Do you get upset seeing animal-on-animal hunting and killing? Do your kids get upset by that kind of scene? Any of you seen African Cats? It’s a pretty good movie.