This beautifully filmed documentary directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey gives an up close and personal look at the lives of wild animals living on an African savannah, the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The cinematographers use close-ups and slow motion to give the viewer a sense of actually being there in the wild and trailing after the animals on their hunts. We can see each muscle bulging and flexing and watch each foot hitting the ground as the animal races after its prey. After the chase and final attack, though, the camera moves away quickly so that blood and gore are not overwhelming. Another strategy for making the animals familiar and what happens to them meaningful, is to give them names, focusing on two particular families: a pride of lionesses and cubs, led first by “Fang” and then by “Kali”; and a mother cheetah named “Sita” and her cubs. Director Scholey said in an interview that he and his co-author John Truby wished to present emotionally-driven and character-driven stories to make the documentary capture the interest of young viewers.
The images, the music, and the narration by Samuel L. Jackson seamlessly portray the challenges these animals face in simply surviving, and the need for their mothers to teach them how to hunt. These aspects of the film are balanced with delightful scenes of the lions in a pride and the cheetah with her cubs lovingly pawing one another when they’re “at home” in a safe environment. Many other exotic animals are shown existing side by side with the lions and cheetahs, which adds to the beauty of the film. The final song, “The World I Knew”, by Jordin Sparks, played during the credits, can be found on youTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssvG2zuvh0c . Movie-goers should stay for the split-screen credits with this song playing; in addition to the usual credits, half of the screen acknowledges animal contributions such as Kali’s four sons as “best boys”, etc.
Interestingly, mothers are cited time and again for their heroism in protecting their cubs at all costs, often at the risk of losing their own lives. They might have a standoff of threats or run in a direction away from their cubs to distract and exhaust their pursuer to keep their cubs safe. The last sentence of Jackson’s narration pays a strong tribute to mothers. The film is not for very young children; a family in front of me with a 2-3 year-old left soon after the movie started. But for the most part, the audience filled with children remained glued to the screen until the end. The music swells and makes eerie screeching sounds when danger is present, and the camera follows numerous hunts in progress, with the pursuer catching its prey most times.
A strong point for the film is its educational value, both in terms of factual information and survival skills, such as the importance of families and being a part of a group. On the film’s website, an educational guide can be downloaded and used as a teaching tool. At least some of the proceeds will go to the African Wildlife Foundation specifically to preserve the savannah. There needs to be some protected land between the nature reserves so that animals can move from one park or reserve to another. The idea is that large animals need more space than they have at present. The filmmakers followed these animals with cameras for 2 ½ years to get the footage. Prior to that, the animals were already known to Director Scholey who is a zoologist and has lived and worked in Kenya for years. His experience and sensitivity to animals and their needs clearly shows through in this excellent film.
Donna R. Copeland