Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. (2011, G, 89 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 29, 2011
The fates of a pride of lions and a cheetah and her cubs, which live on opposite sides of a river in the African savanna, are intently followed in this Disneynature documentary. It’s this emphasis on the animals’ fates and ordeals, however, that renders this stunningly photographed film a specious work of zoological observation. This Earth Day release has honorable intentions, but it imbues the animals with human emotions and motives, which only muddies our understanding of these ferocious feline species. The narration by Jackson concludes the film by declaring what we’ve seen to be “living proof of the power of a mother’s love” (which makes me wonder if Disney might have been better off fashioning an ad campaign geared toward Mother’s Day rather than Earth Day). Even though the film is a documentary rather than an animated work, this being a Disney product means that the company’s familiar storyline about a motherless child making its way in the world takes center stage. (Think of Bambi, Dumbo, and Snow White for early examples, and Rapunzel in Tangled for signs of the formula’s continuance into the present day.) In African Cats, the lion cub Mara copes with the death of her mother. Also problematic will be the junglelike quality of nature in which all animals must eat or be eaten. For adults, the tackling of zebras and the devouring of their flesh will appear visually tame and tactful, although many children are sure to have stronger reactions to the sight – especially when it’s conducted by these nice mommy animals who suddenly appear to be merciless bullies and fanged carnivores. And if young children are disturbed by African Cats, I’m not sure who the intended audience might be. However, if you’re looking for some way to celebrate Mother’s Day, you might consider visiting these fierce African mommas.