The wild kingdom in southwest Kenya where lions and cheetahs vie for supremacy isn't glossed over so some harsh facts may need some explaining to younger viewers from their older familial counterparts.
African Cats is the third in the 'Earth Day' series (after Earth and Oceans) with opening week receipts going to preservation of reserves like Kenya's Maasai Mara National. The captivatingly rich lensing from co-helmer Alastair Fothergill goes a long way to depict survival in such a harsh environment.
With more soothing voice-over (written by co-helmer Keith Scholey) by Samuel L. Jackson, a real-life, live-action scenario somewhere between The Lion King and Blue Planet is able to bring out some complicated facts of life with congeniality without reaching more astounding heights.
Female lion cub Mara (a true survivor of the litter) has a mother Layla whose time is coming to a close, as her River Pride is ruled by an aging, battered, broken-toothed Fang who is still able to hold off some ravenous reptiles. The alpha male (aided by lionesses) might have met his match in the tough stray male lion Kali (who has a gang-like approach with his sons) looking to seize that coveted position. How this power struggle turns out could be detrimental to Mara and Fang's cubs as clearly delineated in the portrait of predators and prey.
More clarity comes through in the constant peril faced by the single cheetah mother, Sita. The care of her newborn cubs underlines a proud protector against the odds as it's hard to fathom how the progeny will ever reach her age. Marlon Perkins would marvel at some of the sequences with a gazelle and hyena, with a jackal offering a moment of levity.
Perhaps a little intense for its rating, African Cats offers quite a silver-screen spectacle as Scholey and Fothergill whittled down three years worth of footage into what can be a temporary reprieve against an unrelenting ecosystem. From longer tracking to sharp angular close-up shots much empathy is deserved for its protagonists whether on the run or at rest. Like them, here's a lithe tale pristinely mounted, sprightly scored and edited to make life in wild wondrous, yet wrenching.