Earth Day becomes Mother’s Day in “African Cats,” a magnificent new wildlife documentary from Disneynature. It’s an engrossing and often-moving film built around the fierce protect-my-young instincts of a lioness and a female cheetah struggling against the odds on the Kenyan Masai Mara savanna.
Almost every shot is a postcard-perfect African vista, and every animal is shown in majestic close-up — lions, cheetahs, hyenas, aardvarks and even the homely wildebeest, their snouts covered in flies.
And yes, almost every situation and story thread duplicates what National Geographic did with its March documentary, “The Last Lions.” But it’s not a put-down of the darker and more straightforward “Last Lions” to suggest “Cats” is to “Lions” what poetry is to prose.
Music, image and narration combine in the Disney film to present life and death, up close (and yet almost bloodless), capturing a world where man isn’t yet the biggest threat; other lions and everybody’s favorite monster, the crocodiles, are.
Jackson’s enthusiastic narration, even managing the odd joke, the splendid images and especially the wonderful sound — cheetah calls, grunting aardvarks wrestling, lions trying to muster up their most menacing roar — makes “the Disney version” of the hard life both educational and terrific, kid-friendly entertainment.
What: “African Cats”
Starring: Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill
Running time: 89 minutes