‘African Cats’ Movie Review: Motherhood in the Wild

The Disneynature film “African Cats” is a good alternative to the flicks, fluffs, and fantasy in cinema’s more popular narrative offerings. This 89-minute documentary puts emphasis on real wild animals’ fates and ordeals in their natural habitats. It brings its audience up close and personal with wild feline families in a human story fashion. It also features animal characters named and treated like people through its narration, which makes the story easy to grasp even by kids.

This film succeeds in the way it explores the emotions of its characters. Despite having a very simple and overused story, it works similar to a fictional narrative that still touches the heart through its storytelling. Interestingly, while it has the bearing of a typical cable TV feature at first, it actually provides a little more than that. It has that slightly diversified hook that allows viewers to delve themselves into a certain emotional wallop.

Utilizing an episodic structure with a nature documentary treatment, “African Cats” features the struggles of a single mother cheetah to take care and protect her newborns and an elderly lioness who risks her life for her cub and her pride. A significant number of animals counting by the hundreds, or perhaps, even the thousands, also appear in the film. Some of the most striking ones include the hyenas, gazelles, giraffes, ostriches, zebras, hippos, buffalos, crocodiles, and elephants.

In its very core, the movie is about a mother’s love. It showcases the lives of cat families in Kenya’s sprawling Masai Mara National Reserve, which is strategically divided by a long, mighty river. It focuses on how the family members bond together, as well as how the mothers teach their cubs to hunt and survive the wilderness.

The film’s breathtaking panoramic shots, visual intimacy, and editing are its major selling points. From its majestic establishing shots to its brilliant close-ups and inserts of wild animals and their African homeland, its high-definition (HD) footage matches the workable narration of Samuel L. Jackson. However, there are moments that the continuous narration uncomfortably changes in pitch and intonation, which is most likely caused by the differences in recording times.

Other than its stunning photography of the Kenyan landscape and wildlife, the film’s treatment tends to capture not only the physical beauty, but also the inner intensity of these living creatures and their dwelling places. Except for some eye-straining series of shots of the fiery heat by the latter part of the movie, the film’s overall visual composition works effectively as a commercial documentary offer.

The mounting of its made-for-cinema chronicling of “big cat” instincts renders well in an emotional level. This relatively separates it from traditional documentaries that provide narrative information about these animals in more scientific ways. It is also more subjective without completely separating itself from the objective reality of its primary subjects.

“African Cats” is considerably an odd choice for a documentary geared towards the children audience. Ironic as it is, this G-rated, Disney-produced project showcases animals that attack and eat each other. Yet, it explores a true-to-life depiction of the circle of life and the food chain in the wild in the level children can take. From the adorable cubs to the fiercest fanged predators, these characters’ engaging sub-stories maintain a family-friendly presentation.

As a documentary feature, it is quite intriguing to know how much of the film’s script was written first before filming and how much of it was written after the filming. At some point, some of its human-inspired and fleeting sub-stories feel a little forced or invented. Nevertheless, the overall storytelling still works as a cinematic venture.

“African Cats” is worth a watch until the end of its closing credits. Aside from the fact that it’s not as long as big movie blockbusters’ scrolling lists, it treats its credits in a playful and entertaining way as the dazzling safari animals it features get fun descriptions as film workers. This is actually based on how they look, move, and live in their natural surroundings. Some of the most memorable and sometimes quite cheesy examples include the giraffes as crane operators, jackals as production runners, hippos for underground photography, hornbills for prosthetics, eagles for aerial unit, impala for location alarm systems, and hearts stolen by baby elephants.

Essentially, this gripping adventure story about the African cats’ way of life offers a light approach in presenting a cinematic wildlife feature. At a certain point, it may tend to be a little manipulative, but it validates the human perspective in the interactions of animals without destroying each one’s own distinct genuineness.