Set in the Kenyan Savannah, African Cats follows the progress of two cat families – a pride of lions and a female cheetah and her four cubs – as they progress through life and try to survive the perils of the wild.
Made by Disney, African Cats is a somewhat anthropomorphised take on the wildlife documentary. Sir Patrick Stewart lends his rich voice to the commentary, which gives all the animals a name and, to an extent, a character, but to the untrained eye these are rather hard to keep track of. Information is very thin on the ground, as no facts about the animals or their surroundings are given to us, and even their whereabouts is not revealed until the very end. Make no mistake, this is a kids’ film, not a David Attenborough documentary.
However, there’s plenty of eye candy for the less easily amused. The sweeping shots of vast African scenery, set to a rousing, if excessively emotive, score, are a marvel to behold on a cinema screen, and the animals are shot fantastically. And it’s not just cats on display, as elephants, ostriches, aardvarks, giraffes, hyenas and more are worked in to showcase the best of the rich variety of fascinating creatures that inhabit the plains.
Particular highlights include a bird’s eye view of a million-strong herd of wildebeest, and a riverbank showdown between a lion and a crocodile.
But the cats are the stars of the show here, which are carefully filmed in great detail throughout their life cycles, including an adorable litter of cheetah cubs which may now find themselves at the top of a lot of letters to Santa. There are several engrossing hunting sequences too, particularly those involving cheetahs, slowed down to capture every movement, although at a U certificate they remain noticeably bloodless.
As mainstream cinema is flooded with special effects and CGI, it’s refreshing to see a film that indulges the eye with natural, rather than artificial, spectacle, which is something that African Cats does with relish and enthusiasm. While more mature cinema goers may begrudge the personification of the animals and the lack of information on offer, there is a lot of glorious wildlife photography on display to make up for it, and while it may not be anything you wouldn’t find in a TV documentary, the opportunity to see the spectacular landscapes and vast herds on a big screen is one that is worth taking for nature enthusiasts.