African Cats Review

Film Still
  • African Cats film still


This Disneynature doc's attempt to dramatise the animal world which just feels cheap and unworkable.

There's a famous – and brilliant – short film from 1976 by British video artist John Smith called The Girl Chewing Gum. In it, the director photographs a regular street scene and seemingly barks instructions from behind the camera as people canter by.

It takes a few minutes before we begin to realise that his narration is in fact a post-production embellishment, and his film takes shape as a commentary on the simple ability to decontextualise images with the canny employment of soundtrack.

Mediocre Disneynature doc, African Cats, runs with a similar idea, only this time without the playful intellectual remove. Filmed on the stunning plains of a Masai Mara nature reserve, the film takes up two story strands: the first concerns a family of lions led by the wobbly-toothed Fang whose domination of the pridelands is gradually falling to evil rival, Kali; the second follows industrious cheetah, Sita, who struggles to keep her cubs safe in increasingly hostile environs.

While it's hard to dismiss the eye-catching pictorial quality of the photography, and there are few who will not find themselves blubbing with delight at the sight of cute cheetah cubs playing in the brush, this film feels like nothing less than a forgery.

In an attempt to make the material more interesting to younglings, Patrick Stewart's narration brazenly anthropomorphasises at every possible instance. All of the animals are given cutesy names, a fake drama is synthesised out of their struggles and there are even occasions where their internal thoughts are stated as fact.

The film doesn't purport to be anything more than an attempt to get young people interested in the wonders of nature, but David Attenborough manages to achieve that remit for the BBC with none of the manipulation and soppy conjecture. And unlike Attenborough, all of the hard edges in African Cats have been softened, so when some of the cubs are savaged by roaming hyenas, it's all left out in the edit and dismissed as one of the tough trials of life in the wild.

All this just about holds the interest for the first third, but at 89 gooey, sun-bleached minutes, this would-be lovable doc really tests the patience.

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