Just in time for Earth Day 2011, Disney Studio releases another in the company’s series of nature documentaries. This time the filmmakers turn their cameras on a family of lions and a lone cheetah mother in the African savanna as they nurture a new generation of cubs.
Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the movie introduces Mara, the daughter of an experienced and aging lioness named Layla. Beginning her life in the safety and companionable atmosphere of a pride, the young cub thrives until her mother is injured during a hunting expedition. The group also suffers when the herds of grazing animals migrate in search of greener pastures. With limited food sources and dropping water levels, the pride is later threatened by an invading lion. Kali wants to drive out the group’s male leader and take over the lionesses.
Sita the cheetah lives the life of a single mother and is forced to leave her five cubs alone while she hunts for game. She also must protect them from predators including hyenas and other young male cheetahs.
Considering the savage reality of the wild, this story, billed as a "true life adventure", censors most of the more gruesome aspects of the food chain and life in the natural world. When the predators do bring down their prey, the final kills take place off screen. However considering this is a documentary, not all realism can be deleted. After the lionesses slaughter one animal, its torn, bloody flesh is seen along with some blood on the fur of the lions. Animals also fight as they eat other dead wildlife.
Still the beautiful cinematography, shot in the Maasai Mari National Reserve in southwestern Kenya, along with affectionate animal interactions, is what the script predominantly focuses on. The filming location on the Reserve may account for the beasts seeming acceptance of humans, which allowed camera operators to catch some up-close footage of days-old cubs. As well, African Cats comes with a stirring musical score that leaves no doubt when danger is lurking nearby. Season Six American Idol winner Jordin Sparks also records the film’s theme song "The World I Knew".
Combining spectacular footage with strong orchestral performances, African Cats brings a family-oriented, mothering feel to the undomesticated existence of these big predators.