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African Cats (2011) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 October 2011
ImageWarning to all have children that may watch this film.  This is not the family-friendly documentary from Disneynature that the trailers led us to believe.  This is a tearjerker, full of pain, sorrow, suffering and loss.  And of course any other heart-wrenching synonym you can think of.  I have heard scores of stories about children begging their parents to leave in the middle of the film, or just simply walking out.  This documentary is not for the timid.

Disneynature’s first release was “Earth,” and it showed us the beauty of the planet with some environmental issues.  “Oceans” took the same formula and applied it to the vast waters of the planet.  But, in the second film the tone took on a little bit of a darker theme.  However, in the third installment, “African Cats,” the tone is fierce and depressing.  Sure there is light at the end of the tunnel and I think that adults will enjoy this documentary.  Children however may need to wait until they are close to their teens, depending on their maturity.

“African Cats” is “The Lion King” in real-life format.  In fact, I would say that the tragedy and triumph of “The Lion King” fits as a perfect template for this documentary.  I have no doubt that the creators must have watched and taken notes from the animated film.

The film finds us in Kenya, Africa on a wildlife preserve.  We are treated to lives of the cheetah and two different prides of lions.  As I already mentioned, the film follows the circle of life found in “The Lion King,” with interruptions to cover the cheetah’s cycle.

On the cheetah side we have Sita, mother of five cubs.  She faces the plains of Africa alone with her cubs, having to protect them 24/7 from every threat.  This includes other cheetahs and Hyenas.  Prepare your children for the loss of cubs.  This is painful and dramatized beyond belief.  The human emotion bestowed upon these wildlife creatures is amiable, making it easy to relate to these creatures.  However, at the same time, it makes the pain all the more associable with our own lives.

On the lion side of things with have two prides, the north and the south, separated by the longest river.  Kali and his sons rule the north but long to take over the pride of the south.  This must wait until the crocodile invested river is low enough to cross.  On the south side Fang is the protector of the lionesses and their cubs.  Mara is the oldest lioness with one cub.  Mara is the focus of the struggle in the pride.  Her age is taking its toll on the pride and they can carry her no longer.  She, in human terms, begs for the pride to accept her cub in their family so that she may leave.  Trust me when I say that the music and pauses make the death of Mara utterly unbearable. Meanwhile, Kali and his sons challenge Fang for ownership of the pride.  Should this happen, Fang would be exiled, Mara killed along with the cubs so that Kali could create his own cubs.  So when Kali succeeds, we know more pain is coming.

The film continues in this circle of life manner until the best possible outcome given all the tragedy comes to fruition.  Of course, it is only happy if you can grasp the nature of cheetahs and lions.  It isn’t happy in human terms but in terms of the African wild.

But, enough with the story, just be warned that it is not very tame, just like the wild of Africa.  What you all dying to know is, how is the quality of the Blu-ray?

I am please to report that for many of you this is as close to Africa as you may come.  Having been the wildlife of Africa I can attest that this film does do the beauty of the African plains justice.  The shots are limited to smaller areas than you might think, but rest assured that the vastness of preserve is conveyed here.  The video quality is outstanding to say the least.  There is beauty all around.  Everything from rolling clouds and thunderstorms to close-ups of cheetahs and lions is gorgeously rendered.  Every hair on the animals is perfect.  Every whisker can be seen even on the smallest screen.  Colors are vibrant when called upon, but very earthy and appropriate given the dryness of the land.  Fleshtones (or fur tones) are pitch perfect.  Any anomalies seen can be traced back to the source material.  If you knew how hard it was to shoot nighttime sequences in the heart of Africa you wouldn’t even given the change in texture and noise levels for those sequences as second thought.  “African Cats” is not going to look any better than this.  It is always going to be my piece of nostalgia for Africa.

Just as impressive as the video quality is that of the audio.  The rolling thunder on the plains is impressive rendered here.  It spreads throughout the room, assuming the speakers are set up properly.  Using THX algorithms to turn this into a 7.1 mix makes the depth of the soundfield all the more impressive.  There are few unexpected lightning strikes or other effects that will make you jump.  That being said the dynamics are impressive for any film, but especially for a documentary.  The LFE channel roars with the lions.  Speaking of which, the lion and lionesses roars are distinct and nicely balanced in the mix.  The roars are sure to frighten the children.  They are real and oh so much more powerful than those present in “The Lion King.”  Don’t be fooled.  The narration by Samuel L. Jackson is nicely prioritized and clear.  Again, “African Cats” could not sound any better.

As a side note, the credits to this film are the most interesting that I have ever seen.  Each animal present in the film is given a clever association to part of the crew.  For example, the Secretary Bird is credited as the Script Supervisor, or the Giraffe as the Crane Operator.  You get the idea.  They are fun to watch.

“African Cats” doesn’t come with a powerful set of bonus materials, but the effort that went into this documentary’s production makes up for it.  The star of the bonus materials is the Picture-in-Picture track, which contains interviews with crew members along with photos.  “Save The Savannah” is a fund-raising piece.  “Disney & Nature” is Disney patting itself on the back.  Lastly, there is a music video from Jordin Sparks.  The package includes a DVD Copy of the film as well.

“African Cats” is frightening and depressing for children.  However, this is an excellent documentary to teach them about life cycles and that the world can be full of sorrow, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  However, children won’t see it is like until they reach a mature age.  I highly recommend this title for fits video and audio qualities.  They are stunning.

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