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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: African Cats

October 14th, 2011

African Cats - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack

Disney has been making nature documentaries for a long, long time. More recently, they set up a new label to specifically make these films, Disneynature, starting with earth, which was actually cut from a TV mini-series. Its theatrical run was a critical and box office success. Oceans did nearly as well with critics, but struggled more at the box office. African Cats slid a little more in terms of ticket sales, but does that mean it is also the weakest in terms of quality?

The Movie

This film has a more developed plot than the previous ones. It follows three groups of cats, two lions prides and a female cheetah with her five cubs. The southern lion pride is led by an older male called Fang, because one of his teeth is damaged. Here we meet Layla, an older lioness who is raising a cub, Mara. To the north there's another lion pride lead by a younger, stronger male, Kali, who has four sons. The two prides are competitors, but a river separates them, a river with crocodiles. At the start of the film, the river is an impenetrable boundary, but as the dry season approaches, the river will become shallow and Kali and his sons will be able to cross it.

Sita is the female cheetah. Cheetahs are normally solitary animals, unlike the lions, so usually the only time there is a group of them is when a mother is caring for her cubs. Adult cheetahs are the fastest land animals and they not only use their speed to catch prey, but also to evade predators. The young, on the other hand, have no protection, other than hiding. Sita has to make sure no predators can get to them, but at the same time Sita has to teach them to hunt so they will be prepared to strike out on their own.

The film does an excellent job of following the three groups and there are many fantastic shots throughout the film. The narrative is well done, for the most part. The characters created for the documentary are compelling, although at times I felt too much motive was given to these cats. I'm not sure lions and cheetahs are capable of such introspection. I also thought the narration aimed a little low. It reminded me of Arctic Tale, in that it felt like it was for kids, rather than adults. I don't remember feeling that way with the previous reviews. However, the filmmakers don't shy away from the danger and the violence that occurs in nature, so there's a weird dichotomy.

African Cats is definitely worth checking out, but it is not as good as earth or Oceans was.

The Extras

The film is only coming out on combo packs. The DVD portion has two featurettes on Disney's environmental work that run a combined eight minutes. The Blu-ray also has a music video, but more importantly, it has a picture-in-picture track called Filmmaker Annotations with behind-the-scenes, interviews with the filmmakers, and more. It adds a whole new level to the film and increases the replay value tremendously.

The technical presentation is amazing with near-reference quality video. There are some nighttime shots that don't have the same quality as the rest of the film, but that's about it for video problems. Otherwise, the level of detail is amazing, blacks are deep, colors pop, etc. The audio is also incredible with the narration always clear and the score filling in the back, plus there's a lot of ambient sounds throughout the movie. There are not a lot of showy directional effects, but you can't expect them in a nature documentary.

The Verdict

While African Cats is not as good as the previous two Disneynature films, it is still worth checking out. The extras are not overly plentiful, but the Filmmaker Annotations by itself lifts the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack to the purchase level.


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Filed under: Video Review, African Cats