When most people hear the name ‘Walt Disney’ they immediately think of the canon of animated films that has delighted and entertained entire families for several generations. The fact of the matter is this is just the slightest tip of the iceberg that is the Disney family entertainment empire. Growing up in the fifties we were witness to the beginnings of the juggernaut that would eventually reach the zenith of movies, television and theme parks. Back in those early days the flagship for the Disney studios was ‘The Wonderful World of Color’ that defined our Sunday evening. A part of that series was devoted to serials like "Davy Crocket’ or ‘Zorro’ but there was a lot more. One of the features I always looked forward to was their nature studies. Disney always had a vast library of footage concerned with the spectacular diversity found in nature. From featurettes devoted to animals only found in remote places to the constantly changing beautiful aspects of the natural world. Just before this current decade began Disney finally made this aspect of their catalog official by creating ‘Disneynature ‘, an independent film brand mandated to create documentaries about the wonders of nature. Their first offerings were widely accepted with topics as broad as ‘Earth’ and ‘Oceans’. One of their most recent releases is under review here is a bit more restricted in range but certainly not quality, ‘African Cats’. For those out there who might be of the opinion nature documentaries are inherently dry and boring well, you just haven’t seen one from Disneynature. Although this branch of the Disney family was officially chartered in 2008 the folks over at the House of Mouse have several decades of experience blending education, understanding and entertainment in a seamless package. Some of the reasons they began collecting footage of animals in their natural habitats was to instill a realistic look and feel to the critters that appeared in their mainstream animated features but the people over at Disney have always had an eye for potential family fun and soon realized that armchair expeditions would be something with a naturally broad appeal. ‘African Cats' transports your entire family to a safari to witness the lives of some of the most majestic on our planet. All you need is a home theater to enjoy this opportunity; no vaccinations, currency exchange, packing or travel arrangements required.
The Disney Corporation has been infusing positive messages in their movies since the beginning. In this case a portion of the profits is donated to maintain the African Wildlife Foundation and their effort to preserve Kenya's Amboseli Wildlife Corridor. Once you see these magnificent cats on their home turf you will certainly be on board with this gesture. The film was created by Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill with narration provided by the unmistakable voice of Samuel L. Jackson. The theme of the documentary depicts the lives of the large cats of the African savanna personalizing their plight by following a several Lions and cheetahs as they navigation the trials presented in their lives. Identification with the cats is brilliantly achieved by focusing on lion and cheetah ‘family’ groups anthropomorphizing them further by assigning members of the group personal names. This technique is exceptionally effective and not restricted to working with the youngsters. The whole family will instantly be drawn into genuine concern over the fate of these beautiful wild animals. The stars of the film include a lion cub, Mara, her mother Layla, a new cheetah, mother Sita and her five cubs. They are defended from a rival pack of lions by the alpha male, Fang. As noted by Poet T.S. Elliot, these are not the names the cats use to refer to themselves. It must be noted that while all the photography is from real animals in the wild the presentation has more than a few similarities to so called reality television series. A considerable amount of humanization is applied to the actions of the cats. I’m very sure that motivations such as the necessity of expanding the ranging territory of a pride is reasonably accurate it is surely more instinctual in its nature. It almost seems from this presentation the Alpha males form strategies to the pressures their pride is experiencing. I do believe that animals are sentient and having been owed by cats for a considerable number of years I am equally convinced here is a conscious motivation behind some of their activities but most of the situations depicted in this film result from instinctual direction.
‘African Cats’ is the latest in what has become an annual celebration of Earth Day having its original theatrical release earlier this year in April. Even if you have a problem with the humanization of jungle cats as done here you will be suitably impressed by the sheer magnificence of the photography. If ever there was a film that demands the high definition video afforded by Blu-ray this is it. The colors are breath taking. There is a richness in the color palette and a depth to the texture that will make this film your new go to disc to pop in and impress your friends with the faithful representation of your system. The mastering is as close to reference quality as possible. This is also reflected in
In some ways this is the live action cast of ‘The Lion King’ without the elaborate musical numbers. The DTS-HD MA 5 audio track fills the room with a realistic, three dimensional sound stage that will blow you away. You will feel as if you are there in African veldt as every little detail of the audio and video is presented with crystal clarity. This movie is a treasure that will enthrall your whole family for a long time to come.