- Running time:
- 90 minutes
- Samuel L. Jackson -
- Keith Scholey, Alastair Fothergill
- Official Movie Web Site:
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
Having hakuna matata'd their way to wild success with "The Lion King"—both as an animated classic and a hit Broadway musical—Disney goes for the real deal with this documentary that tracks the lives of African cats in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. As befits the backdrop's epic grandeur, the animals' stories are told in suitably dramatic fashion, including a pride of lions trying to stave off a hostile takeover from predatory rivals, and a female cheetah raising her five cubs alone amid the omniscient threat of ravenous hyenas.
The buzz: This is the latest installment in the studio's burgeoning Disneynature imprint, which was set up in 2008 to capitalize on the surging interest in wildlife documentaries following the unprecedented success of "March of the Penguins," which made $127 million worldwide and won an Oscar. The mini-studio is based in France and has staked a claim on Earth Day to release its movies, including last year's well-received "Oceans."
The verdict: Leave it to Disney to figure out how to package a movie as seemingly academic as a survey of feline wildlife and turn it into a gripping, educational and emotional adventure. In an shrewd move to make the film especially digestible to younger audiences, "African Cats" veers from the usual school-bookish format of most documentaries and instead plays like a bedtime storybook, complete with gee whiz narration by Samuel L. Jackson, who provides the movie's sole spoken soundtrack. Here, animals are given names like Fang and Sita and Kali, to humanize them for added emotional investment. It works incredibly well, and you're soon hooked on the story, wondering if, indeed, Sita's helpless cubs will be able to outmaneuver those hyenas, or if Fang will be able to defend his pride from Kali's vicious advances. Smartly, the filmmakers bolster the narrative by playing up dramatic themes that could have readily come from any other live-action film: family intrigue, sibling rivalry, homewrecking, insurrections, banishment and prodigal children. Jackson's narration, although mostly steady, occasionally becomes overblown ("It's now or never!" he decrees at one point, seemingly girding for Armageddon), and the movie can't resist piling on cute-overload moments (brace yourself for many squeally sounds from the audience). Oh, and a Jordin Sparks pop song plays over the end credits—yep, we're still in Disneyland. But with vistas this majestic, and camerawork this stunning, "African Cats" comes out roaring.
Did you know? That Sparks song was made for a good cause: a fifth of the profits from the sale of its single will be donated to the African Wildlife Foundation.