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African Cats (2011)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/4/2011
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/14/2011
For decades, when it came to animated feature films, no one came close to the quality produced by Walt Disney studios. Their films, most of which are still considered classics today, were works or art which took years to complete. Things changed in the 1990s with the dawn of CG animation when other players like Dreamworks entered the game. Today, Disney still makes some good animated films, such asTangled, but it's more of a level playing field. However, one area where Disney still can't be touched are nature documentaries. For years, these films were distributed to schools and made part of The Wonderful World of Disney. And despite the fact that we have Animal Planet and the like, when Disney sets out to make one of these films, such as African Cats, you can bet that it's going to be good.
As the title implies, African Cats takes place in Africa and focuses on the big cats who are native to the region. The film examines the lives of two kinds of cats. We meet two families of lions, each of whom live on opposites sides of a roaring river. These families, which are comprised of dominant males, hunting females and cubs, live in relatively harmony in their own groups. However, when the river drops and they can cross into enemy territory, things change. The movie also shows off the life of a female cheetah who has five cubs for which she must care. Living on her own isn't easy and she must not only hunt, but ensure that the babies stay out of trouble. The movie takes place over a series of months, as we watch how the cats adjust to the changing of seasons and the changing of allegiances amongst the groups.
We focus on the quality of African Cats in a moment. For now, let's look at the movie's one detriment. The movie could has easily consisted solely of the footage and some vague, but informative narration from Narrator Samuel L. Jackson. Instead, Writers Keith Scholey and John Truby have decided to add a big dose of anthropomorphism to the movie. Now, trust me, no one loves anthropomorphism as much as I do (I've never met an animal which didn't immediately start "talking" to me), but it can make the science behind a documentary somewhat questionable. The piece gives all of the animals names such as Fang, Sita, Mara, and Layla. Human emotions such as love and loneliness are attributed to the cats and the movie often implies that their motivations go beyond mere survival. Does this hurt the movie's credibility? I would say that is does, but only slightly. Adding this element does help to make the movie more accessible to those who may have found a strict documentary a little dull.
Still, this is a small complaint when one considers how impressive the footage here is. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey spent two years following these creatures, documenting as much of their lives as possible. In short, the visuals are amazing. Keeping in mind that these are wild animals who possess incredibly keen senses of smell, it's mind-boggling that the photographers were able to get close enough to capture the images seen here. Even taking long-range lenses into mind, the amount of detail in the shots and the intimacy of the movie is awe-inspiring. We get right in the faces of these deadly creatures as they go about their day. The footage has also captured some amazing events, the most incredible being a face-off between a lion and a crocodile. Do you know that these two man-eaters ever squared off in the wild? I didn't, but seeing them going at it was incredibly cool and better than any of the bogus animal vs. animal movies seen on Syfy.
I haven't seen enough documentaries about the big cats of Africa to say that African Cats is the best, but it's certainly very good. Naming the animals borders on unnecessary, but the incredibly detailed photography makes this a must see for animal doc lovers. (Keep in mind, there is plenty of animal-on-animal violence here, in case that bothers you.)
African Cats contains just the right amount of cute baby footage on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The picture has an impressive crispness to it, which lends it a very nice amount of depth, as the lions are nicely separated from the landscapes. The level of detail is good as well, and we can see each piece of fur. The image is never overly dark or bright. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.4 Mbps. The track provides clear narration and sound effects. We get some nice stereo effects here, as we hear the various sounds of the Savanna. The roars of the lions produce palpable subwoofer effects. The animals noises, as well as the sounds of the elements come through the rear channels as well.
The African Cats Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. The film can be watched with "Filmmaker Annotations" which provides picture-in-picture commentary from the filmmakers, behind-the-scenes footage, and pop-up facts which give us more information about the film. "Save the Savanna" (5 minutes) is a brief featurette which gives some background on the movie. We hear the inspirations for the film and get some insight into how it was made. The final extra is the MUSIC VIDEO for "The World I Knew" by Jordin Sparks.
Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long