Anthropomorphizing its animal stars to a borderline-dubious degree, Disneynature's nonfiction African Cats situates itself in Kenya's river-divided Masai Mara National Reserve, where two four-legged mothers—an aging lioness with one daughter, and a single-mom cheetah with five newborn cubs— valiantly struggle to provide for and protect their young. As with the recent The Last Lions, directors Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill's documentary is a cornucopia of gorgeous wildlife imagery, here much of it in rhapsodic slow motion that captures the ferocious majesty of its subjects on the prowl, in cozy repose, and on the defensive against predators. Far less striking than its panoramas of feral familial bonds, however, are the narrative's good-vs.-evil dynamics, which—heightened by Samuel L. Jackson's over-the-top narration—seem to have been massaged in post-production for supreme melodramatic effect. As befitting a Mouse House production, blood is nonexistent and warm uplift is the ultimate destination, replete with cornball "Where are they now?" postscripts. Yet if it maintains a superficially manipulative façade, the film remains committed to addressing the harsh realities of existence on the plains, be it through the depiction of a child's painful choice between pride and parent or the resignation of an old cat to its lonely, final fate.
Cheetah matriarch Sita and her cubs.
Opens at Pacific Place and other theaters, Fri., April 22. Rated G. 90 minutes.