African Cats

Samuel

CastSamuel L. Jackson

DirectorsAlastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey

Rating**1/2

The first two documentaries from Disney's Disneynature label _ 2009's ``Earth'' and last year's ``Oceans'' _ were a stunning combination of vast, sprawling images and intimate, detailed moments. They provided high tension but also tugged at your heart and offered some laughs in between.

The latest in the series, "African Cats," which is opening on Earth Day like its predecessors, has all the impressive visuals but far less story. Shot over more than two years in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya by directors Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill, the film bills itself as a real-life version of ``The Lion King.'' No one bursts into song here but Samuel L. Jackson, as the narrator, does talk. A lot.

And that's the movie's major weakness. The images _ and the animals' dramatic interactions _ should speak for themselves. Jackson's narration is constant and overwhelming. It spells out instincts that should be obvious and assigns human characteristics in a way that's obnoxious.

The film follows two families living on either side of a river. One is a pride of lions ruled by the fearsome Fang. At one point, Fang roars and snarls and gets a threatening crocodile to back down. Reading from the script, Jackson tells us: ``Today, the pride's protector has earned his keep.'' Or he'll inform us that a female lion cub, Mara, possesses the fighting spirit of her mother, Layla. How could we possibly know this?

Ostensibly, the narration is meant to make the film as accessible as possible to younger viewers, at whom much of the material is aimed; this was true to a far less cloying extent in ``Earth'' and ``Oceans.'' But ``African Cats'' can also be super violent, despite its G-rating, as it depicts the ins and outs of hunting rituals; at one point, several lionesses tear apart a zebra carcass, leaving their soft, furry faces bloodied. This was enough to send some parents and kids out of the theater at a recent screening.

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