"Not too long ago, two mothers fought against forces that sought to destroy them." These mothers, as the title of Disneynature's new film sets up, are a lioness and a cheetah, and the forces against them are, more or less, Africa (more precisely, Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve), other cats, hyenas and weather, as well as old age and injury. The cheetah loses several cubs and looks rather wistful as the survivors crawl all over her. The lion — named Kali in Samuel Jackson's overheated narration — is increasingly unable to hunt or even keep up with her pride, as another group moves in to take over.
Still, Kali, like Sita the cheetah, burns with a fierce desire to ensure her baby's safety going forward — even making friends with her sister so she'll look after the child. Whether or not this is the case, the film anthropomorphizes the animals' behavior to a fever pitch: Even the thunderclouds seem to be in on the tragedy. I blame March of the Penguins. All documentaries with animal babies want to replicate its box office success, so they repeat the formula: heroic parents, fuzzy kids and rough environments, not to mention the big-name narrator who tells you exactly what the animals are thinking — or would be, if they had the capacity to think like humans.
Some of the shots are stunning (long tracking shots show cats walking endlessly over endless plains) and some of the hunting and killing scenes aren't precisely G-rated (being bloody and traumatic, if brief). But the story imposed is clumsy and unconvincing.