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African Cats

Aside from producing swashbuckling Pirate films and 3D animated adventures, Walt Disney Studios also makes informative and entertaining documentaries. Through Disneynature, a sister company that develops and distributes environmentally conscious films, the studio has brought awe-inspiring motion pictures like Earth and Oceans to the masses. The outlet's latest offering is a much more focused movie, featuring a bunch of furry characters that you'd expect to find in a certain classic Mouse House flick.

Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, African Cats follows two families of felines in a remote valley in Kenya's 580-square-mile Masai Mara National Reserve. As the seasons change, we see young lions and cheetah's come of age against all odds as their elders struggle to find food and shelter for them. Unfortunately, and this is what bothers me most about nature in general (blasted circle of life!), hunger and extreme conditions aren't the only problems the animals face. Predators are always on the prowl, from hyenas and crocodiles to dominant males of the same species. The audience is taken on a heartwarming and heartrending journey of about a year in the life of these packs of animals, through love, loss, pain and pleasure.

Gorgeously shot in high definition, African Cats is essentially a televised National Geographic segment, extended and schmaltzed-up for the big-screen. Yes, it is educational, but our eyes have already been opened to the hardships that wildlife endures thanks to similar documentaries and the programming on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. The effects of these revelations are lessened because of our pre-existing knowledge, but that's where narrator Samuel L. Jackson comes in. His recognizable voice guides us through the narrative that the filmmakers have weaved together, sometimes a bit over-dramatically, and elaborates on the events that occur with plenty of enthusiasm. That, not to mention cute and cuddly characters in adorable and intense situations, triggers an undeniable emotional response that Disneynature is counting on.

So even though the producers of the film may not be able to teach you anything that you don't already know, they're fully capable of tugging on those heartstrings. African Cats is delightful to behold thanks to breathtaking photography that captures the beauty of the country and a simple story that everyone can enjoy. It's also an entertaining way to make a difference; during the first week of its release, a portion of the proceeds from that week's ticket sales will be donated to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to ensure the future of the inhabitants of the African savanna. I don't want to sound like a salesman, but after seeing what these lovable creatures go through each and every year, the price of a movie ticket doesn't seem all that steep. This weekend, skip drab studio romances and clichéd genre fare to see a truly moving motion picture. rated this film 4 stars.