African Cats (2011)

(On Cable TV, June 2012)  It’s hard to resist a well-made nature documentary, and African Cats has the added appeal of combining both the irresistible visuals of big cats with the technical innovation of digital filmmaking.  This means that we don’t just get to see cheetahs and lions standing still: we get to see them in high-resolution slow-motion tracking shots.  It doesn’t sound like much, but the first few minutes are spectacular, especially when seen on a high-resolution TV.  The narrative, pieced together from two-and-a-half years’ worth of footage, centers around a cheetah single mom raising her cubs and a weakly-led pride of lions being threatened by a pack of stronger males.  It’s compelling ways-of-nature stuff, helped along with splendid visuals.  Samuel L. Jackson’s narration on the American release, curiously enough, doesn’t bring much to the film –It may be interesting to compare it with Patrick Stewart’s narration for the UK release.  As a product of Disneynature, the film is kid-friendly without being too disingenuous about the bad things that happen in the story.  Strongly structured around a basic plot, African Cats may not be as visually diverse as Disneynature’s previous Oceans, but it seems to have a bit more heart, even when this sentimentalism becomes a bit anthropocentric.  (The cub sequences have been optimized for maximum awwws, and there nothing wrong with that.)  The cinematography is gorgeous, though, and the end credits have quite a few laughs.

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