Monday, January 30, 2023


April 22, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Disney nature films have had a spotted history. The brainchild of the late Roy E. Disney, the studio’s True-Life Adventures series brought 16 cleverly edited — and sometimes contrived — documentaries about animals and birds to the screen between 1948 and 1960. (They received some notoriety some years ago when it was discovered that the whole notion that lemmings kill themselves was concocted by the producers of Disney’s White Wilderness, who herded together about a dozen lemmings that they had purchased, photographed them from various angles to create the illusion that they were a huge throng, then hurled them off a cliff into a river.) Disney has revived the series with what it now calls Disneynature documentaries, the latest of which is African Cats. Critics observe that the rough scenes of animals shot over 2 1/2 years have been crafted into an arresting story, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, but that there is no denying that a Hollywood hand is in control. (One clue: the animals have names.) Rachel Saltz observes in the New York Times: “The focus on mothers and cubs and the impulse to treat nature like a storybook should come as no surprise: the film is made by Disneynature.” Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that the story is “deeply involving and primally moving,” and that while some people “may be critical of the filmmakers for projecting human emotions onto [the two featured lions] … watching African Cats it’s hard not to believe that whether you have four paws or two legs, motherhood is universal.” And, like other critics, Claudia Puig in USA Today, has little problem overlooking the contrivances of the movie. “The photography is so spectacular that the accompanying Disney-ization of wildlife is forgiven,” she writes. Gary Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times observes that the movie may be more intriguing for adults than children. “In fact,” he cautions, “despite its family-friendly trappings, Cats is largely serious stuff; deliberately paced, thematically dark and often wistfully told, with enough moments of survival-oriented tension and dread to question its G rating (a scene of lions feasting on a zebra is one of several daunting images that might disturb youngsters).”