Wednesday, July 27, 2011

African Cats

 In a cinematic world where CGI has run rampant it was an incredibly refreshing change to sit in a theatre and watch a movie with 'reality'. No Green Harry X-Men Potter here!! After African Cats I can categorically state 'reality' beats CGI hands down every time!! But that is not to say this isn't flawed because it has something of a childishness to it that is unfortunate considering the seriousness of its efforts to raise funds for African wildlife conservation.

 Samuel L. Jackson narrates African Cats and it isn't his finest performance I'm afraid. It isn't totally his fault as the script he was given was rather weak and for me was the only let down of an other wise wonderful wildlife film. It is nice to see Disney delve back into wildlife films as they were a studio which made them prodigiously many years ago. The problem here is that the film doesn't seem to know who its target audience is. The script is too child orientated to really satisfy adults, and yet the film is donating a set amount of revenue for African conservation groups, which if is the case, means surely getting bums on seats is the priority. Unfortunately the child like script isn't going to get adults in which means less revenue.

 What this film shows is that with wildlife films being a somewhat forgotten genre studios don't appear to know how to make them anymore. Disney once led the pack in making wildlife films and I was expecting more because of this. The cinematography is superb and can't be faulted but that script...grrrrrrr! The makers have tried to introduce a family face to lions and cheetahs but have over simplified things too much. It isn't a documentary, which is ok because you don't want the kids bored by it, but like animation there has to be an adult angle which this just doesn't have The script fails on both accounts.

 What African Cats shows is the consecutive lives of a lioness and her cub, and a cheetah and her five cubs. In all honesty there is nothing new or really original in this type of film, but in being seemingly child orientated, Disney have jumped on the 'mother's love' angle to show how the lioness and cheetah protect and nurse their cubs into adulthood. I liked the angle and premise, but it wasn't enough for me as an adult. Fortunately the cinematography is superb, and even though not a documentary per se I did learn a few things!

 Even after years of wildlife documentaries on television etc, I never knew cheetahs purred!! I kid you not as in one scene, with the mother cheetah and her five very young cubs, you can actually hear them purring like domesticated cats! I couldn't believe it! The thing I really noticed between lions and cheetahs was that cheetahs most closely resemble our household pets. They are more elegant than lions, and their every movement had me thinking of my own cat, whereas the lions didn't. Mind you lions are three times bigger than cheetahs so the elegance is over taken by bulk.

 The other thing which I never realised was that whilst cheetahs are the fastest land animal, they can only sustain their top speed for 30 seconds, and are then blown. But overall there are very facts about either big cats which was what I would liked to have more off. I think the 'mother's' love' angle for the kids could easily have  been melded into it more facts, etc, for the adults, and still worked for both parties. One amazing scene saw my jaw drop, and that involved a pride of lionesses drinking at a river, and quite literally standing up to the crocodiles. They weren't scared, and were right in the crocs faces, hissing and spitting like household cats! It was incredible that a small brained, cold blooded reptile, knew when it was time to back off! An amazing thing to watch and well worth the ticket price to see.

 Overall I really enjoyed African Cats. It is pure Disney heart warmer, and surprisingly it had very little blood, less than even your average television documentary. The cats are shown hunting and catching prey, but there is next to no bloodshed, as the film concentrates on that all important 'mother' angle. The camera work is spectacular and can't be faulted. I was amazed at how close the camera got, especially to the cheetah cubs, as the cheetah mother was very protective. Just watch her take on several male lions, three male cheetahs, and a host of hyenas!! She prevails and only lost two cubs to a pack of hyenas after the run in with the lions. Actually her three remaining cubs are involved in seeing off the three males cheetahs in one of the films most staggering scenes. Honestly they were three tiny things that hissed and spat liked a domestic cat and saw off three fully grown male cheetahs. Again a great scene and well worth that ticket price!

 For me the cheetahs were the highlight, probably because I saw so much of my own domesticated cat in them. The cubs when very young are exactly like a domesticated cats kittens to be almost indistinguishable. I suppose that is the appeal over the lions which always looked liked wild animals. But in saying that the lions rubbed against each other just like domesticated cats do to humans, but which the cheetahs didn't as such. It was funny as I watched this film in popped into my head why it was that the ancient Egyptians domesticated cats, and revered then so much. After watching the cheetahs in particular I can see why they became enchanted by the elegance, poise, and grace that a cat has.

 African Cats is a worthy watch even though too child driven. This is a flaw because the film is a fund raiser and surely aiming it at a limited audience is a a mistake. But that aside the camera work is superb, and after all the CGI this year it was absolutely refreshing to see real life action on screen. Believe me CGI may provide stunning visuals, but watch the cheetahs in this and tell me CGI can better them!! A heart warmer in the best Disney tradition ( 7/10. It would be more but the script is an unfortunate let down ).

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