Movie Review: African Cats

For the third year in a row, Disneynature is celebrating Earth Day with the release of a fantastic new documentary about life on this rare planet. In 2009, it was the movie Earth. In 2010, it was Oceans. And new for 2011, Disneynature introduces us to African Cats.

African Cats was filmed on the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, Africa. Filmmakers spent more than two years gathering footage of the wildlife in the area, and stitched together a story of two families: cheetah mom Sita and her five cubs, and lion patriarch Fang and his river pride.

For this week only (April 22 – 28), fans can help “Save the Savannah,” as a portion of the proceeds from the week’s ticket sales will be donated to African Wildlife Foundation through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to protect the Amboseli Wildlife Corridor, a passage between the Amboseli, Tsavo West and Chyulu Hills National Parks that is frequently used by lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, giraffes and a host of other animals in the African savannah.

Two of my daughters and I were able to see an advanced screening of African Cats, and truly enjoyed the experience. The cinematography alone is stunning, whether it’s capturing the massive herd migrations, intimate moments with the animal moms and their cubs, or the dramatic sunsets across the plains. The story is a moving testimony of a mother’s love, and we found ourselves a bit choked up at times, and at other times laughing and “oooohing” and “ahhhhing” at the different animal cubs’ antics.

The movie is rated G, but be warned that there are some intense moments, the soundtrack and effects get very loud at times, and there is some “circle of life” material in terms of life and death in the wild. I was pleased, though, that the hunting scenes were handled very tactfully and there is little in terms of blood and guts to scare young children.

It’s hard not to wonder at the laborious process of capturing this amount of film in the wild. An interesting article about the making of African Cats confirms that filmmakers waited for days on end to capture even the smallest moments in the movie. Their patience pays off, though, in what I felt was a sweet movie. Some reviewers have criticized the “lack of story” or the anthropomorphic nature of the film (ie: making the animals seem just like humans), but honestly, I loved the opportunity to relate to these cheetah and lion families and realize that things like family and love are a universal experience.

For more information on African Cats:

Disclosure: I was provided tickets to the advanced screening free of charge. No other compensation was received. All opinions are honest and my own. And, I admit, I may have shed a tear or two during this movie. I’m a sap like that.