Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 29 min.
Our Content Ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
What became of the lions’ den,
the cave of the young lions,
where the lion goes,
and the lion’s cubs, with no one to disturb them?
The lion has torn enough for his whelps
and strangled prey for his lionesses;
he has filled his caves with prey
and his dens with torn flesh.
In this documentary co-directors Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill transport us to the Masai Mara National Reserve of southern Kenya. There we follow the fortunes and misfortunes of three big cat families, two of them lions and one a cheetah and her cubs. In his magisterial voice Samuel L. Jackson narrates their anthropomorphized stories.
Sita the cheetah is a single mother raising five cubs to face the savanna’s many threats, among which are lions and ravenous hyenas. At times she has to lure the predators away from the cubs because of the size or the number of the attackers. In one of these her brood is reduced from seven to five.
Layla the lioness with her six-month-old cub Mara belongs to the River Pride. It is a communal existence with the several mothers joining together in hunting and guarding their cubs. The pride is ruled by Fang, though he is long past his prime and seldom around.
Black-maned Kali and his four lion sons live north of the Talek River. They are barred from crossing by the high water, but during the dry season, they cross over and approach the River pride. Fang runs off and is never heard from again. Kali has acquired another territory and pride, with Jackson making it sound as if kali is Genghis Kahn following a well-planned campaign of conquest.
The story line is a bit much to swallow, but the photography is absolutely gorgeous. How patient the filmmakers must have been to acquire the extreme close-up shots of the cheetahs and lions. And not just of the big cats, but also of gazelles, ostriches, hippos, rhinoceroses, crocodiles, water buffalo, wildebeests, hyenas, elephants, zebras, and oodles of birds. Many of the latter make up the diets of the cats, as we see in a number of hunting scenes—but parents are not to fear, this being a Disney production, with the scene stopping before we see any blood or torn flesh. This is one film that definitely should be seen on as large a screen as possible. We come away with a sense of the grandeur of God’s creation and an appreciation of the struggle of mothers in the wild to raise and protect their offspring.
This review with discussion questions is in the July/August 2011 Visual Parables.