(2011)3Nathan SouthernAfrican Cats joins Earth, Oceans, and other recent theatrically released Disneynature docs that put the animal kingdom on the big screen. This one stands apart from its predecessors on a key level, though: it breaks events down into bite-sized pieces to make them more comprehensible for small fries. While it has a level of competency that we've come to associate with the studio's nonfiction output, the picture as a whole does seem engineered and best-suited for the eight and under crowd.
Samuel L. Jackson narrates the account of two groups of wild felines on opposite ends of a Kenyan nature reserve -- a pride of lions and a pride of cheetahs. Over an unspecified period of time, the movie observes developments from the life cycle of each species: the rearing and training of new cheetah cubs, for instance, and developments leading up to their accidental separation from their mother in the savannah grass at night; the desperate foraging of an outcast lioness; and the risky journey of two lions through a crocodile-infested river. The movie's strategy involves heavily anthropomorphizing the animals by giving them names and using musical cues to suggest their emotions; it also imposes very straightforward, expository narration onto the events that occur, so that there will be absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind about the beasts' motivations or how they are interacting with one another.
The cuts are also highly specific, and calculated enough that anyone who keeps track of the editing may wonder what the directors omitted, in order to smooth out any ambiguities and keep the story as transparent as possible. The material is antiseptic as well -- presumably to keep a G rating, the more brutal instances of animal violence and all animal reproduction are very cleverly edited out of the action.
As mentioned, though, this format is ideal for children, and the movie's goals for that target audience are noble. It's especially noteworthy that in an era where most theatrical children's entertainment jets along at hyperdrive, the Disney folks have succeeded in bringing documentary material to the big screen with a more poetic, languorous pace, and yet found a way to keep it relatively engaging and comprehensible. Adults may admittedly find this saga wildly oversimplified, even a shade or two monotonous, but the sheer beauty of the visuals will help to compensate somewhat for older viewers.