I really love the Disneynature brand. Though a rather low key division in the increasingly overwhelming Disney corporate pantheon, it serves to rekindle and revitalize a legacy that Walt Disney himself initiated over six decades ago with the True-Life Adventure films. Disneynature's newest film, African Cats, arrives this week in various home entertainment formats and serves both the brand and its legacy very well.
African Cats marks the return of Alastair Fothergill to Disneynature; he shared writer/director chores with Mark Linfield on Earth, the very first Disneynature release. Fothergill has an extensive resume in regard to nature film making and documentaries. Most notably, he was the executive producer of the acclaimed BBC series Planet Earth and Blue Planet. With African Cats, he partnered on writing and directing responsibilities with Keith Scholey, another veteran of BBC nature programming. The result is an entertaining and often breathtaking view of life on the African savanna, as seen through the lives and actions of two different cat "families"--a large pride of lions and a mother cheetah and her cubs.
The film is more of a storytelling experience than prior Disneynature releases, with the storyteller being actor Samuel L. Jackson by way of his off screen narration. Jackson relates two separate stories that occasionally intertwine. A pride of lions, led by patriarch Fang are juxtaposed with Sita, a courageous mother cheetah carrying for a large brood of cubs. Jackson's narration is much less academic and more conversational than that in previous Disneynature entries. Though not quite as endearing as True-Life Adventure veteran Winston Hibler, Jackson manages a kid friendly tone from what is clearly a more kid-friendly script, but without necessarily alienating the adult crowd. The scenery is indeed spectacular, especially when viewed in Blu-ray high definition. I was very impressed with the film's musical score, a majestic and sweeping endeavor by Nicholas Hooper, also a veteran of BBC nature productions and the composer for both Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Sadly, Hooper's efforts are slightly undermined by the apparent desire on the part of Disney execs to inject a totally unnecessary "pop" sensibility into the proceedings by way of a theme song ("The World I Knew) performed over the end credits by American Idol winner Jordan Sparks. Synergy and cross-marketing be damned; it just didn't fit.
DVD extras include the strictly PR-driven Disney and Nature segment, a testimonial about the Walt Disney Company's numerous environmental initiatives. Saving the Savanna is a brief piece on the making of African Cats specifically, and also showcases efforts to preserve the wildlife and habitats presented in the film. Filmmaker Annotations is an interactive in-movie feature that presents an additional twelve behind-the-scenes featurettes on the making of the movie.
According to promotional literature, proceeds from the sales through October 10 of DVD sets and digital downloads will be donated "to help conserve the land the magnificent species featured in African Cats call home."