Single mothers and single lionesses have a lot in common. According to Disneynature’s new movie, “African Cats,” they both have tough lives and struggle to protect their children.
Following “Earth” and “Oceans,” “African Cats” is the newest Disneynature venture and will open on Earth Day, Friday, April 22. Billed as a real-life “The Lion King,” the documentary follows two African cat families—a pride of lions and a single cheetah mother with five cubs.
Just like “The Lion King,” the animals are anthropomorphized. It’s one thing to have cute Disney cartoons named Simba, Mufasa, and Nala. It’s quite another to have real animals called Fang, Kali, and Sita. One wonders who named them, especially if they are ostensibly in the wild of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The answer is the creative team of the movie.
It seems absurd to have Samuel L. Jackson narrating the lives of these lions. He says things like, “Fang, the protector, demands the lion’s share.” Perhaps that is accurate but very overwrought. Jackson seems to be merely reciting from a script rather than really caring about his performance. With ridiculous alliterations like “Sita the Cheetah has a secret,” it is hard to take the narration seriously.
Though rated “G,” the movie has its fair share of nature gore. One particularly disturbing scene occurs when the pride devours a zebra. The zebra carcass looms headless, and the spine pops out of the dead body. The lions sink their teeth into the bloody flesh, and their heads emerge with red mouths—some viewers might all of a sudden consider becoming vegetarian.
Toward the beginning of the film, the images stand out on their own. Watching a cheetah speed after a gazelle is simply stunning. After the fifth time, the image loses some power. By the end of the film, beautiful shots of speeding animals become passé.
The attempt to display moral lessons in the nature documentary also seems heavy-handed. Instead of objectively showcasing the experiences of the big cats, the film becomes an Aesop’s fable with a message-heavy ending. The audience learns, for instance, that the single mother is noble and that one should never leave children alone with three ominous young males.
There are, of course, some cute moments in the film. The baby cheetahs are impossibly precious—perhaps even cuter than the Jazz Hands Kitty YouTube sensation. There is also a comical little turtle that gets turned onto its back and dangles its tiny feet as it tries to right itself.
Though not the best Disneynature movie, “African Cats” remains an interesting way to celebrate Earth Day.