For the third Earth Day in a row, Disney has carted out yet another nature documentary. 2009’s Earth was somewhat majestic if dramatically inert, while last year’s Oceans was a sometimes-spectacular piece of honest-to-goodness filmmaking. What do we get this year with African Cats? Unfortunately, it’s easily the worst of the lot—a dull, corny look at lions and cheetahs and other various critters.
Instead of the often-grand visuals of Disney’s previous nature docs, African Cats is straight-up Wild Kingdom voyeurism, the kind of hiding-in-the-bushes photography that’s been peddled on PBS for decades now. There’s nothing new going on here, besides all these savage beasts being made pretty uninteresting for the sake of a family audience. All of the general nastiness of the animal kingdom is cut short or cut out, while Samuel L. Jackson’s narration is easily the most embarrassing thing the man has done in a career not exactly marked by consistent quality. While Jackson has been in his fair share of bad movies, he’s not boring. African Cats, however, has turned everyone’s favorite BMF into a hokey, whitebread parody of himself.
Jackson’s lifeless narration is the most disappointing aspect of the film, not to mention a succinct summation of the film itself, since it’s so dreadfully dull and listless. Mixed in with all the nature footage is the story of a pride of lions and a family of cheetahs and their humanized fights for survival, which wavers between clunky and clichéd. Sure, this all works fine for the film’s target demographic of young kids, but there’s no justification for a wide-release documentary backed by a company like Disney to be merely “fine.” With little else going on here, it all adds up to a pretty lame attempt at a nature documentary. Rated G.