A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this documentary prequel to the popular series Meerkat Manor isn't for the faint of heart, as it features upsetting scenes of meerkats being hunted and killed by predators and, in one case, being run over by a truck. In one emotional sequence, a baby meerkat is bitten by a cobra and suffers a sad, slow, labored death. Despite the voice-over narration, kids may be confused by the animal family's infighting. They may also have questions about the mating scenes (though they look more like cuddling than anything else) and resulting litters of pups. Overall, it's pretty intense for very young viewers, but for grade-school kids, it's a great introduction to the realities of life in the wild -- though you'll want to be ready to field queries about nature's "survival of the fittest."
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What's the story?
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, MEERKAT MANOR: THE STORY BEGINS is a prequel to Animal Planet's popular series Meerkat Manor and chronicles the rise of family matriarch Flower. It opens with underground scenes of Flower and her siblings not long after their birth and follows the future Whiskers family leader as she takes her first tentative steps into daylight, learns to forage for food, and discovers the wonders of the world around her. Cameras are there as Flower surrenders her home to a rival gang, suffers a haunting loss, finds love (and pays dire consequences for breaking the family's rules regarding romance), and finally steps up to the leadership role that seemed tailor-made for her.
Is it any good?
This story has it all -- family drama, neighborhood strife, illicit romance, emotional reunions, and the particular brand of humor reserved for human interpretations of animal behavior. Whether you're an established fan of the Whiskers clan or a newcomer to the Kalahari meerkat family, Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins is a captivating journey into the wild that will transport you from your living room to the desert to laugh, cry, and struggle alongside these irrepressible foot-tall desert dwellers.
That said, be careful about sharing it with young kids kids, since many scenes feature close-up views of battles between predators and prey, and there's uncensored footage of a few deaths (including one heart-wrenching one in which a baby dies slowly and painfully after a snake bite). Even kids old enough to handle the harsh facts of life in the wild may have follow-up questions about topics like mating rituals and "survival of the fittest," so be prepared. But if your kids are up for it, grab a box of tissues (you'll need them for all the ups and downs) and join them for the amazing journey that is everyday meerkat life.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way things work in the wild. What daily struggles do the meerkats face? How do they work together to ensure the family's survival? How do their individual roles reflect their personal strengths? How does the movie make them seem more like real "characters" than a group of animals? Does that make what happens to them affect you more? Families can also discuss leadership. Why is it important to have leadership within a group? What happens when leadership dissolves? What qualities define a good leader?
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