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African Cats Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Archived Reviews' started by Matt Hough, Oct 4, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    In the 1950s, Walt Disney produced a series of documentary short subjects and features called True-Life Adventures that won a passel of Oscars and were among the finest nature documentaries ever made to that time. Two of those dealt specifically with feline cultures in Africa: The African Lion  and Jungle Cat. Disney’s new nature documentary branch of its company has now presented a modern update to those classic films, African Cats. In the new film, however, Disney is harking back to another of its previous True-Life Adventure films, Perri, in which authentic nature footage is used to fashion a story with fictional character names attached to the animal participants. It worked well then, and it works well in African Cats, too, as the beautiful scenery and the intensity of life and death struggles on African savannas make for a compelling if somewhat fictionalized hybrid of a documentary.

    African Cats (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
    Directed by Keith Scholey

    Studio: Disney
    Year: 2011

    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 89 minutes
    Rating: G
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
    Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish

    Region: A-B-C

    MSRP: $39.99

    Release Date: October 4, 2011

    Review Date: October 4, 2011

    The Film


    The film establishes three sets of characters all living in the Masai Mara Wildlife Reserve which includes parts of Kenya and Tanzania. The River Pride on the southern side of the river focuses on three main members: elder lion Fang (so named for a split tooth), elderly lioness Layla, and her only cub Mara. On the northern side of the river is a family of cheetas led by single mother Sita and her five cubs. A threat to their safety is a lion pride made up of powerful lion Kali and his four grown sons. Not only does Kali and his brood make times uncomfortable for Sita and her five children, but they’re interested in crossing the crocodile-infested river once it lowers and lay claim to the southern lands where hunting is more plentiful, too.

    Shot over a two-and-a-half year period, the film follows the inevitable circle of life which surrounds each of these three families. There are the expected triumphs and defeats as the animals go about their two primary facets of life: finding sustenance and maintaining their positions on the land. As age takes its toll and superior power wins the day, changes are bound to happen, and the filmmakers capture all of it with gorgeous, detailed expertise. We see the cheetahs (known for their speed but not for their staying power) grapple with fleet-footed gazelles and also have to face off against lions, other cheetahs, and the predatory hyenas. We see Fang defend his pride’s food supply against voracious crocodiles in a gallant display only later to find himself outnumbered by younger and stronger lion adversaries of Kali and his sons. And the story of Layla and Mara’s struggles for survival offers a bittersweet narrative which should appeal to young and old.

    The film is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson in a somewhat over-enunciated and dramatic fashion, and while the cameras don’t linger on the kills thankfully leaving much of this to the imagination once we see the cats take down their various prey, the inevitability of death for these animals, both aggressors and victims, is never soft-pedaled either. The director uses a marvelous variety of shots to keep things interesting from overhead looks at the vast plains to up-close-and-personal shots of each of the film’s main characters. There’s plenty of slow motion, too, to watch the gorgeous majesty of nature’s creations in full “flight,” and the 89-minute running time is just about perfect.

    Video Quality


    The film is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is offered with 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Shot digitally, most of the transfer is astonishing in its clarity and full-colored beauty. You can count individual hairs on the faces of every animal, and every insect which finds a roost on them can be seen easily. Colors are natural and completely realistic. The digital photography sometimes has trouble with early morning fog shots, and some of the photography occasionally goes soft at odd moments. Still, most of it is reference quality and is a treat to watch. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.

    Audio Quality


    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix offers an interesting assemblage of animal and nature sounds placed through the surround channels enhancing the width and breadth of the soundstage. Nicholas Hooper’s music is a near-constant companion during the film and has been given an excellent encoding through the various channels. Samuel Jackson’s narration is strongly recorded and has been placed firmly in the center channel. There isn’t much use of the LFE channel apart from a couple of raging thunderstorms which strike the plains during the movie.

    Special Features


    The movie may be watched with the Filmmakers’ Annotations mode turned on. This offers a video commentary from the various crew members which comes in PiP windows along with a running series of annotated facts which pop up in their own separate window. Twelve times during the film the viewer is asked if he wants to see a featurette pertaining to the making of the movie. Each of these video pieces, running from 5-10 minutes each, finds one or more members of the crew talking about how certain shots were accomplished for the movie.

    “Disney & Nature” is a 3 ½-minute puff piece about the Disney’s company’s efforts toward conservation and preserving natural heritages around the globe. It’s in 1080i.

    “Save the Savanna” is a 4 ¾-minute vignette discussing the efforts to save the areas of Africa where the film was shot. It’s in 1080p.

    A music video of the song “The World I Knew” (which plays over the closing credits) is performed by Jordin Sparks in this 4 ½-minute, 1080p featurette.

    The second disc in the set is the DVD version of the movie.

    There are 1080p promotional trailers for The Lion King, Chimpanzee (the next Disneynature release), Cars 2, Pirates of the Carribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Treasure Buddies.

    In Conclusion

    4/5 (not an average)

    African Cats is an enjoyable hybrid documentary featuring families of animals which have been given fictional identities to give the film a different kind of dramatic intensity from the routine documentary picture. With outstanding picture and sound and interesting behind-the-scenes looks at the intricate process it was to put this feature together, the film is definitely one to be recommended.

    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC


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