African Cats Movie Poster Image

African Cats

Nature docu emphasizes a mother's love and sacrifice.
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 90 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

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.

Positive messages

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.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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.

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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 22, 2011
DVD/Streaming release date:October 4, 2011
Cast:Samuel L. Jackson
Director:Alastair Fothergill
Topics:Science and nature, Wild animals
Run time:90 minutes
MPAA rating:G

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 5 and 7 year old Written bySraesc June 18, 2011

Wonderful movie, just warn your young ones ahead of time

Took my kids (5 and 7) to see Rio but after finding out it was only in 3D at that particular theater (and my kids don't like 3D movies), we decided to see African Cats instead. I quickly looked up reviews on on my mobile and was a little worried by all the negative reviews about the violence in the movie. After watching it, however, I have to say that I think this was a truly beautiful movie. I told my kids everything that was going to happen before it happened, so they were prepared for the intense scenes. My son was upset when the baby cheetahs were taken by the hyenas and I asked him if he wanted to leave, but he said no. He also got a little teary when the mama lion died (peacefully, by the way, not violently), but by the end of the movie he absolutely loved it. Most of the intense, violent scenes happen early in the movie, so I'm not surprised that so many people left the theater. However, the movie had wonderful messages, amazing cinematography, and it taught my kids a lot about life in the wild. We talked afterwards about how even though it was sad at times, that's what life is really like for animals in the wild. They both understood, and they both really enjoyed the movie in the end. I do agree that it was unnecessarily intense at times (the narrator implied something bad was about to happen but then it didn't actually happen). I was very grateful for the reviews on because I was able to tell my kids, "Yes, something bad is going to happen here," or "No, everything is going to be fine." Knowing what to expect helped them enjoy the movie more. Thanks for the reviews!
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Parent of a 6 year old Written bymamacat531 April 29, 2011

Great movie, but intense.

This movie was fantastic, but quite intense. My almost-seven-year old and I both cried, laughed, and held our breath and clutched onto each other during several scenes. It's not gory, but the struggle to survive is pivotal to the movie, and scenes where two cheetah cubs are lost to hyenas, and where a mother lion dies, are difficult. If your kids are very young, or easily troubled by this kind of thing, you might was to pass on this. But, for kids that can handle it, it's an awesome movie... i loved showing my son the excitement and drama of the natural world versus the kind found in movies like "Fast Five." Highly recommend for any animal lover.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Educational value
Great messages
Parent of a 7 and 9 year old Written bylititzmom April 22, 2011

Amazingly beautiful and gripping, but maybe too intense for some.

This is like Nat Geo on steroids. Amazing footage, great story telling, incredible scenery. BUT because it's on the BIG screen, it's more overpowering than what you'd view w/your kids at home, on your TV. There's no escaping the drama, or the scariness. Fifteen minutes into it, my mesmerized 9-yr-old son exclaimed, "THIS is rated "G"?! It should be PG 13!" Now, PG would have been fine, really, and for children under 8 or 9 it could be okay, if they're used to nature shows and all that come with it--life and death of characters our narrator has made sure we feel connected to. There really isn't much blood and gore, but there is lots of death and loss, and even more "drama" where the narration makes you think a beloved cat is going be eaten by crocs or a rival cat (even at times when they end up okay--it's almost like the filmmakers and narrator wish it had turned out differently for the sake of the storyline). Thus, a lot of the "tension building" was unnecessary for a "G" movie. PLUS, a lot of the drama is viewers being hit over the head that this is a momma, and her cubs, and the momma might die, or the cubs might die (and some, indeed, do) That is upsetting for young viewers. I highly recommend this for older children, and strongly advise careful consideration to younger children's sensibilities before taking them. My son said his seven-year-old sister would have been "really, really upset." I agree.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Educational value
Great messages