The animal kingdom is majestic and teeming with life, but habitat loss is a very real threat to many species today. Filmed on the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, African Cats is a touching and fascinating documentary on the lives and struggles of both a pride of lions and solitary cheetah mother and her cubs. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, this film brings the African plains to life. Its Earth Day release is for a good cause – a portion of the proceeds of first week ticket sales are being donated to the African Wildlife Foundation to save land in Kenya.

This production follows the adventures of a pride of lions called the River Pride, a cheetah mother and her five cubs and an opportunistic male lion named Kali who seeks to dominate the River Pride and claim its lionesses as his own. The River Pride’s story centres on the elder lioness Layla, and her cub, Mara. They struggle to survive hunts, attacks by Kali and his gang of sons and the long treks in search of prey.

The cheetah, Sita, follows a more solitary lifestyle. A single mother of five little cubs, she struggles to keep her family fed and safe from the multitude of dangers present on the savannah – hyenas, other cheetahs and even Kali and his sons. We watch as she raises her cubs to adulthood, teaching them how to hunt, cross treacherous rivers and to deal with lions.

The cinematography in this documentary is absolutely stunning. You can see the ripple of muscles under the skin as Sita runs at top speed, the grain of fur on the cubs and the scars of many battles on the lions. The detail is simply amazing, and the beauty of the African savannah is shown in its full glory. In addition, they have captured the sounds with amazing detail. You can hear the cubs purr, and observe the vocal range of the adults. They growl, roar to warn others and mothers chirp to their cubs.

This was a very well put together documentary, and I say this having been an insatiable consumer of documentaries during my youth. This isn’t one of the dry, trite reels of nature footage from decades past. Samuel L Jackson’s rich voice narrates the action and delivers profound meaning to the action, as well as creating an unshakable understanding of the realities of life on the savannah. It is an incredible experience, with appeal to both adult and younger audiences.

On a more practical note, there are many gratuitous shots of adorable baby animals. I felt my heart open to these families, and the adventures and struggles were as suspenseful and intricate as any human-based drama.