Who's In It: Samuel Jackson (narration)
The Basics: Lion cub "Mara" and "Sita" the cheetah are the main "characters" in this nature documentary about wild cats living on the savanna in Kenya. And how do I know what their proper names are? Because Sam Jackson told me, that's how. He narrates this anthropomorphic adventure as the feral felines endure a season of harsh times and predators. And according to the goofy script he was paid to read, these animals are as full of human emotions and motivations as the ones you remember from The Aristocats.
What's The Deal: It's not Jackson's fault. Blame whoever decided to scrap cold scientific reality for warm mommy-and-her-precious-cubs heartwarmth. But it's kind of hard to watch a cheetah mother staring off into space after her cubs have been chosen for lunch by a pack of hyenas and truly believe that she's grieving like Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice. It also feels like a weird kind of cheating when the movie refuses to give character names to certain animals, knowing before the audience does that the cats are about to, in the euphemistic terms of the narration, "never be seen again."
Hey Parents, Disneynature Has A Zoology Lesson/Nightmare For Your Little Ones: All descriptions of animals-eating-animals in this review aren't exaggeration. It's sort of like a live-action version of The Lion King, except this "Circle of Life" contains some lyrics Elton John forgot to write. The grisly reality of female lions gnawing on the bloody haunches of still half-alive zebras, as well as the aforementioned hyenas abducting baby cheetahs and crocodiles snapping and lunging at just about anything they can, is 100% front and center. I watched a tiny little girl go into shrieking hysterics during the press screening, so just be aware that this one's for older/tougher kids.
What's Good About It:
Everything else. The cinematography is beautiful, the Kenyan countryside is amazing to look at, all giant vistas and time-lapse season changes. And the animal footage the filmmakers get is spectacular. If you want to see real wild creatures doing their real wild thing, then you'll forgive the dorky storytelling. Or you could wear earplugs.
Opening Week Collaboration With African Wildlife Foundation: If you're going to go see this movie you'll be doing the most good for these animals if you do so in the first week of release. From April 22 - 28 a portion of the proceeds from the week's ticket sales will be donated to them.