From the very on-the-nose title, you can probably guess that this instalment focus on the African savannah, following a pride of lions and a family of cheetahs. It’s narrated with typical bombast from Professor X himself, Patrick Stewart, who notably has replaced Samuel L Jackson for the UK release (the press notes rather sloppily still had a bio of Jackson in them).
It should be said at this point that the film is very lacking in actual educational content – Stewart anthropomorphises the hell out of the cats, giving them cute African names and traditional three-act story arcs. Seriously, they might as well name the lion cub Simba and the warthog Pumbaa. There’s even an evil uncle from another pride at one point. The approach makes it a very easy, enjoyable watch, but if you were expecting to actually learn anything about lions at any point you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The footage itself is also little to write home about – it’s all perfectly well done, and there’s the requisite number of shots of cute cheetah cubs and epic shots of the savannah, but maybe we’ve all just been spoiled by Blue Planet. When David Attenborough and the BBC are providing such jaw dropping, awe-inspiring of the natural world, beamed directly into your home in stunning HD, it’s got to be really something special to drag people into the cinema. African Cats really isn’t that I’m afraid.
Despite these criticisms, and the fact that the film is both nothing you haven’t seen before and is completely forgettable, it’s a rather nice, fluffy experience. It’s nice to think that films like this are still being produced. With Hollywood desperate to make all their blockbusters part of a franchise, and appeal to internet fanboys, films purely for kids seem to be disappearing.
What used to be fun family films are now 12As, with lingering shots salivating over Megan Fox’s behind or The Joker forcibly inserting pencils into eyeballs, just because the BBFC rating will allow it. The idea that very young children can still go to the pictures and see 90 minutes of fluffy lions, and possibly learn something, is somewhat reassuring, and I think Disney should be commended for it. Even if I’ll be going to see The Avengers instead.