When Disney produces a documentary
about cheetahs and lions in the wilds of
, you’d expect a lot of cute “awwww” shots of cubs cuddling and
playing. And we get those.
But we also get the realism of hunting to eat.
And the honesty of the law of the jungle, that only the strong
What’s remarkable about this movie
is that it could have taken place ten years ago, a hundred years ago, or a
thousand years ago, and you can’t tell the difference.
It’s just that timeless (other than the narration voice of Morgan
Freeman). A pride of lions on the
south side of the river is presided over by Fang, the patriarch, whose
broken bottom tooth is both a badge of courage and a sign of how difficult
it is to stay on top. His lionesses
are happily raising his cubs, and all is well until the bad boys from the
north side of the river brave the crocodiles and attack him.
The papa lion and his oldest son are at first driven off with the
help of the females, but he returns, later, with all three of his grown
sons, and Fang just slinks off into the bush, never to be seen again.
One of the females got scattered in the melee, but she soon finds her
way back, and is welcomed playfully by the other “wives” in the harem,
who soon produce a new litter of cubs from the new king of the jungle.
The oldest female, however, is both injured and banished, and, as the
deposed queen, is not going to survive in isolation.
She does, however, stay long enough to insure that her cub will be
raised by her sister.
Meanwhile, a female cheetah tries to
raise her five cubs by herself, but is attacked by a pack of wild hyenas,
and loses two of her cubs in the battle. But
she escapes with her other three, and manages to raise them up without
further incident. Although the cubs
do have to learn that you don’t mess with an ostrich, and you don’t
tease a water buffalo. And speed is
as useful for stalking as it is for escape. What’s
strange is to see an elephant intervene, once, to stop some bullying from
the lions. Elephants as peacemakers?
There are no humans anywhere in sight.
(We don’t even see shadows of people holding cameras.)
There are no signs of civilization—no telephone wires, no streets,
no houses, no automobiles, no aluminum cans, no candy wrappers.
Just the natural purity of the vast, teeming plains and the wild
animals who live there. When the
colossal thunderstorms arise---and they will---the animals just have to lay
under some bush and wait it out. You
can even see them wet and shivering. The
gazelles and zebras are the prey--but there seems to be so many thousands of
them in thundering herds that you almost feel like the remorseless predators
are only weeding out the dumbest and slowest, and in an ironic Darwinian
way, improving the quality of the herd.
It’s also interesting to observe
that the mother cheetah, once her job of raising her cubs is done, then
leaves them to live alone. The lions,
however, always seek to be together, in the safety and affability of their
social group. Yes, there are loners
and joiners, even in the animal kingdom, and maybe we good church folks can
take a lesson from this, and stop beating ourselves up over the people who
don’t want to join us. Maybe it’s
not in their DNA. Maybe God didn’t
make them that way!
Some of the smaller children in the
theater were clearly bored, and even the older ones were somewhat startled
by the fresh blood dripping from the fangs. But
this is how those African cats have been living since…well, long before
Morgan Freeman played God.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor,
United Presbyterian Church,