'African Cats': A paean to feline mothers

Lions in a scene from "African Cats," which celebrates two single moms - Layla, a battle-weary but wily lioness, and Sita, a sleek cheetah.
Lions in a scene from "African Cats," which celebrates two single moms - Layla, a battle-weary but wily lioness, and Sita, a sleek cheetah.
Posted: April 22, 2011

No one here sings about the "circle of life." African Cats, a live-action Lion King released by Disneynature, focuses on the urgent challenges of the cycle of life in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. Given the spectacular footage of lioness and cheetah moms protecting their spawn, it rightly should be called Prey Eat Love.

Filmed over the course of 2 1/2 years and released to coincide both with Earth Day and Mother's Day, African Cats celebrates two single moms: Layla, a battle-weary but wily lioness, and Sita, a sleek cheetah, who live on the opposite banks of the Mara River. Layla has a cub named Mara; Sita a quintet of adorably spotted fur balls.

Given the predators on the savanna (crocs! hyenas! rival lion prides!), odds are against the mothers seeing their children grow to maturity.

While you may be critical of the filmmakers for projecting human emotions onto Layla and Sita (do these felines have hopes and dreams or just reflexes and conditioning?), watching African Cats it's hard not to believe that whether you have four paws or two legs, motherhood is universal.

Surely, feline moms and human ones face similar conflicts. In order to feed her brood, Sita must leave them unprotected in the long grass while she hunts for food. A sequence of the fleet-pawed cheetah mother catching a gazelle and bringing it home for breakfast is thrilling and tragic. Did the gazelle have children, too?

And in order to feed her pride, huntress Layla snares a zebra for lunch. But after little more than a snack, sister lionesses and their cubs have to make way for Fang, their male protector, who vividly illustrates what it means to take the lion's share.

Though African Cats is G-rated, scenes of animals chowing down on other animals are not for the faint of heart or delicate of stomach. I don't think it's suitable for those under 6, and they should be prepared for real animal behavior. But it's deeply involving and primally moving.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/flickgrrl/.

 

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