By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Nature docu emphasizes a mother's love and sacrifice.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kids will learn about the way that female cheetahs, who are solitary by nature, make an exception for raising their cubs and teaching them how to hunt, where to live, and more. Kids will also learn the way that lionesses live in a pride, hunting and raising cubs together while they're protected by an alpha lion.
The movie's messages are quite sweet and family oriented. Layla and Sita are both exemplary mothers who prove that even in the animal kingdom, mothers have an imperative to watch over their young, teach them how to survive, and make tough decisions that will ultimately benefit their offspring.
Positive Role Models
It's hard to ascribe human characteristics to wild animals, but since the narration already does that for us, it's easy to make the leap and say that the two animal mothers are positive role models. They're selfless, they make difficult sacrifices, and they face danger on a regular basis to raise their young and secure their safety.
Violence & Scariness
There are various scenes in which the big cats hunt animals or confront enemies. Some prey animals are killed (no blood, but the predators are shown eating), a couple of cubs don't survive, and a few sequences are filled with suspense and tension that might be overwhelming for young kids. One mother animal dies peacefully.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this nature documentary features some breathtaking cinematography of the African savannah, but despite its G rating, there are some potentially upsetting scenes of animals hunting and dying. Nothing is overtly bloody, but the disappearance (and implied death) of a couple of cubs and the death of a central character is likely to disturb young children and squeamish adults. Children will learn about the African savanna, how cheetahs and lions differ in terms of their family groups and hunting styles, and how mothers -- even in other species -- are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their babies.
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What's the Story?
In Disneynature's third feature-length wildlife documentary, filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey follow two animal mothers living in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve: Sita, a cheetah trying to raise five newborn cubs by herself, and Layla, an older lioness with a 6-month-old cub called Mara. Fothergill and Scholey's team spent two and a half years following the AFRICAN CATS to focus on the two felines as they overcome daily threats and dangers to raise their cubs. Layla is helped by her sister lionesses and an alpha lion, whereas Sita must fend for herself and keep the predatory hyenas and unrelated male cheetahs away from her cubs. If they're successful and lucky, both mothers will usher their offspring to young adulthood.
Is It Any Good?
Nature documentaries can be broken down into two key elements -- the photography and the narration/story arc -- and the images here are extraordinary. Veteran wildlife specialists Owen Newman and Sophie Darlington were the directors of photography for this film, and it's obvious they patiently waited for just the right shots. We get the expected hunting scenes that show Sita running with such beauty and elegance that you don't really care that she's about to down an equally elegant but not quite as fast gazelle. But there's also a lovely, domestic touch to the smaller scenes, whether it's of Sita's three remaining cubs playing with each other or standing their ground against bullying hyenas, or of the pride of lionesses and their cubs lounging on a flat rock and grooming each other.
As for the narration, Samuel L. Jackson tackles it with precision and heart. The script he reads is heavy-handed with the humanizing -- painting the mothers in such a way that we all think of them as the "good guys" and their animal kingdom enemies as the "bad guys." But it works for the purposes of this story, to make everyone think of the universality of motherhood and how even our counterparts in the wild will stop at nothing to get their kids safely to self sufficiency. Food, shelter, experience -- these are things that all mothers try to provide, and watching Sita and Layla do it with their feline kidlets is a satisfying, if at times heartbreaking, endeavor.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the popularity of wildlife documentaries. What attracts families to nature films?
Does humanizing the animals in movies like this one make them more or less likable? Is it right that some are depicted as "good" and some as "evil"? Aren't all the animals just acting like animals?
Some criticize G-rated documentaries for depicting the way that animals hunt and (in some scenes) die. Do you think that kind of content is appropriate for all audiences?
- In theaters: April 22, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: October 4, 2011
- Cast: Samuel L. Jackson
- Director: Alastair Fothergill
- Inclusion Information: Black actors
- Studio: Disneynature
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
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