Fangs bared, but blood spared

A real-life The Lion King similarly aimed at a family audience, African Cats nevertheless takes an adult approach to the fight-or-be-eaten reality of life in the wild.

Amazing photography and a compelling storyline raise African Cats into a night at the movies well worth taking your family with you

Amazing photography and a compelling storyline raise African Cats into a night at the movies well worth taking your family with you

African Cats Three stars (out of 4) Rated: G

A real-life The Lion King similarly aimed at a family audience, African Cats nevertheless takes an adult approach to the fight-or-be-eaten reality of life in the wild.

The third film from the new Disneynature offshoot of Uncle Walt’s kingdom, following Earth and Oceans, is also the best.

It benefits from a narrower focus and a greater willingness to reveal harsh truths, within limits. Teeth are bared, but the sight of blood is spared.

There’s no escape claws in this often brutal saga of two wild African mothers, a lioness and a cheetah, as they seek to protect their offspring from predators of all kinds. Danger threatens both directly and indirectly, from attack and from abandonment.

Narrator Samuel L. Jackson sets the dramatic tone for African Cats, making animal instincts sound like human cunning.

He depicts the East African grasslands as a setting more akin to a Quentin Tarantino movie than a Walt Disney, a ‘hood where only the strong, the wily and the lucky survive.

“Only by showing extraordinary courage would these mothers prevail,” Jackson intones, and indeed, he’s not exaggerating.

Extraordinary photography, and dogged work by co-directors Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill, justify the florid narrative.

The feline moms live on either side of an unnamed river that is populated by crocodiles (the film was shot in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve).

To the south is lioness Layla, lead hunter for the River Pride, a family of lionesses ruled by the aptly named male lion Fang (although he’s missing a front tooth, lost in a fight).

Layla has a 6-month-old cub named Mara, who is not old enough yet to hunt for her own food. But mom is getting older and slower. Layla is wincing from recent injuries, including a zebra kick that has left her permanently hobbled.

Despite her pain, Layla must provide for her daughter while also keeping up with the pride’s seasonal moves.

Fang waits for no one, and without him, predators turn bolder. He’s brave and tough enough to scare away a crocodile, but even he might prove no match for a pack of testosterone-pumped tabbies that repeatedly charge the pride.

On the north bank of the river, cheetah mom Sita is having an even tougher go of it. She’s a “single mother” with five newborn cubs to care for, and she has no male protector at all. Everything from rapacious hyenas to bullying male teen cheetahs threaten Sita’s brood.

The anthropomorphizing gets a bit much at times, with Jackson attributing “mother love” and “vengeance” to animal actions that are really just the rule of nature. Nicholas Hooper’s soundtrack, alternately threatening and syrupy, underlines the empathy overkill.

There’s no denying the amazing visuals, however. Co-directors Scholey and Fothergill spent more than 21/2 years gathering these images, which include high-speed photography of a charging cheetah, the fastest animal on land, as it stalks the wildebeest that will soon become dinner.

It’s enough to take your breath away, but not to lose your lunch. The camera spares viewers, especially fearful younger ones, of explicit blood and gore.

That’s a wise decision by Disneynature. It wants to inspire today’s young people to love and respect the Earth, the same way their Boomer parents did watching TV’s The Wonderful World of Disney in the 1960s and ‘70s.

It would be fascinating, however, to see an “R”-rated cut of a film like African Cats, which doubtless would rival any horror film for scarlet truth.

Peter Howell is a syndicated movie critic for The Toronto Star.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Red Deer jumps to 449 active COVID-19 cases on Sunday

1,516 new cases identified in Alberta

The QEII was closed Sunday morning due to a pole fire. (Photo courtesy City of Red Deer)
UPDATE: QEII near Red Deer reopens

The QEII has been reopened after being closed due to a pole… Continue reading

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Bashaw RCMP investigate fatal collision in central Alberta

Bashaw RCMP are investigating after a fatal collision Saturday afternoon. Police were… Continue reading

A damaged unicorn statue is shown in a field outside of Delia, Alta. in this undated handout photo. It's not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast had been located in a field not far from where he'd been taken. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

DELIA, Alta. — It’s not often police can report that a unicorn… Continue reading

Investigators from the Vancouver Police Department were in Chilliwack Saturday, collecting evidence connected to a double homicide. (file photo)
Police investigate shooting death of man outside downtown Vancouver restaurant

Vancouver police say one man was killed in what they believe was… Continue reading

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start registering people 18 years and older for COVID-19 vaccines

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government says it’s inviting people 18 years… Continue reading

San Jose's Tomas Hertl, center, celebrates with teammates Patrick Marleau, left, and Rudolfs Blacers, right, after Hertl scored a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild, Friday, April 16, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Patrick Marleau set to break Gordie Howe’s games record

For Patrick Marleau, the best part about Monday night when he is… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Half of U.S. adults have received at least one COVID-19 shot

WASHINGTON — Half of all adults in the U.S. have received at… Continue reading

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Federal government to send health-care workers to Ontario, Trudeau says

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says federal departments and some Canadian… Continue reading

People cross a busy street in the shopping district of Flushing on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in the Queens borough of New York. Access to the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States is growing by the day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kathy Willens
Despite COVID-19 vaccines, Americans in D.C. not feeling celebratory — or charitable

WASHINGTON — This might make Canadians jealous of their American cousins for… Continue reading

A man pays his respects at a roadside memorial in Portapique, N.S. on Thursday, April 23, 2021. RCMP say at least 22 people are dead after a man who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser, went on a murder rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Memorial service in Nova Scotia marks one year since mass shooting started

TRURO, N.S. — A memorial service is planned for today in central… Continue reading

In this April 23, 2016, photo, David Goethel sorts cod and haddock while fishing off the coast of New Hampshire. To Goethel, cod represents his identity, his ticket to middle class life, and his link to one the country's most historic industries, a fisherman who has caught New England's most recognized fish for more than 30 years. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
‘It’s more than just a fish:’ Scientists worry cod will never come back in N.L.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The latest assessment of Atlantic cod stocks, whose… Continue reading

Most Read