Monday, May 30, 2016

African Cats (2011)

Film: African Cats (2011)
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Keith Scholey, Alastair Fothergill
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

DisneyNature is a company initiative that I can totally get behind from the House of Mouse.  I grew up loving nature films and copies of National Geographic Jr. and as I got older this never went away-I still love nature documentaries and regularly read about environmental causes and if you're following me on Twitter you'll know I am outraged by the gorilla story that hit the news yesterday.  I am one of the people who think that the mother in this case needs to be charged with child endangerment and should be subject to a civil lawsuit from the zoo-the fact is her parental negligence caused the death of this rare endangered species...this could be another article entirely but it would be all finger-pointing and little artful ranting, so I shall resist (but know I'm pissed).  Anyway, back to the movie-I recently caught African Cats, the third film from DisneyNature and below are my thoughts.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film is, unlike say a miniseries from David Attenborough, a narrative tale.  We are not seeing random snippets across the Savannah of a series of different interactions of cheetahs, tigers, lions, and leopards, but instead two specific narratives surrounding Mara, a young lion cub, and Sita, a cheetah with five newborns trying to make it in the Savannah.  The film follows these two narratives, trying to point out the toughness that is required for the young and old alike on the Savannah, even if they are fierce predators.

The movie is surprisingly harsh and realistic, even if it gives all of the animals cute names that surely had a marketing tie-in from Disney all ready to go (it's been a few years since this movie came out, and I haven't been to DisneyWorld in years so I don't know how much of a hold DisneyNature has on the park).  The film isn't shy about showing, for example, that the cheetah cubs won't all make it in the wild as two of them are killed by a pack of hyenas or that Mara's mother will eventually succumb to the ware-and-tear of old age, or that Mara very nearly will die as a result of a new lion taking over her pride.  This level of realism in a nature documentary geared almost entirely for children is quite refreshing (it gives an actual depiction of nature), but a little jarring for me who wasn't expecting anything sad.  Then again, this is Disney, land of the single parent, so I shouldn't be totally floored.

I think the best moments are when, quite frankly, you get to see interactions between animals you wouldn't have expected.  I loved the scene where a band of older male cheetahs are harassing the cheetah cubs and then are eventually chased off by an elephant, something that feels as if it was plucked from an actual Disney cartoon and surely the filmmakers were high-fiving after catching that on-tape.  The film gets a little heavy-handed in trying to force some of the mothering narrative onto the animals (you half expect a fake conversation between Mara and her mother Layla when Layla eventually disappears to die, abandoning her daughter), but overall the movie is quite fun, if relatively simplistic and clearly directed at children.  I'll surely be checking out more DisneyNature films in the future (I've only seen Oceans, I believe, before this), and if you have kids I'd highly recommend putting this into their DVD rotation.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Any other nature documentary addicts?  Anyone have a particular favorite DisneyNature film? Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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