'African Cats' a superb doc

AFRICAN CATS Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

AFRICAN CATS Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

When the going gets tough, the women fight for their children and the men run away. Sound familiar?

You'll recognize most of the domestic situations in African Cats, a superb new documentary from Disneynature, the good people who brought you the films Earth and Oceans.

African Cats offers a phenomenal chance to get right in close and observe two cat families in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The story is all about cat mothers: a cheetah mother raises five cubs on her own against daunting odds, while an aging lioness raises her cub within the lion pride she hopes will offer protection.

Samuel L. Jackson narrates this film. The animals have names; call it anthropomorphism if you like, but the cat families and their gripping adventures are all the more real to child viewers for that bit of familiarity.

African Cats concerns animal life on both sides of a mighty river. The kingdom to the south is home to six lionesses and their fearless leader, a male called Fang, and in this group lives the older Layla and her cub Mara. Layla is ferocious and the lead huntress, but she's the oldest of the female lions, and it's inevitable that she start slowing down.

On the north side of the river lives Sita, a cheetah with five cubs she must protect. She's raising them on her own, and must leave the babies to hunt for food. They are vulnerable and there are predators everywhere, particularly the heinous-looking hyenas. The north side is ruled by the lion Kali, a huge beast with four adult sons. This pack of male lions wanders the landscape with a menacing swagger. Or whatever the equivalent of a menacing swagger might be in the animal kingdom.

The river is full of crocodiles. That's about all that protects Fang, the lion to the south, from Kali and his posse on the north. Kali, not unlike Donald Trump in carriage and coiffure, wants to rule both sides of the river, but those concealed crocs keep him in line.

However, rivers run dry at some point in the year, and a confrontation seems inevitable ...

African Cats features the hunting and nurturing skills of the female animals and is, in many ways, an homage to the moms of the animal kingdom. Sita is one plucky cheetah, and scenes that have her protect her cubs by standing up to Kali and his sons (not to mention a trio of male cheetahs) are astounding to watch.

While Sita leads her solitary life, the female lions across the river do all the child rearing, hunting and laundry for their pride; then -- spoiler alert! -- when their male leader, Fang, is defeated by Kali, they have to switch allegiances and have cubs with Kali if they hope to survive.

It's exactly the same principle as the Hollywood trophy wife! You'll want to be prepared for your child's incisive questions about that.

Adventure, drama and wonderful cinematography have thus far been the hallmarks of a Disneynature movie, and African Cats is no exception. The film was shot over two years, long enough to show the cheetah cubs grow up and the whole circle of life, to coin a phrase. While there are sequences of pursuing prey and hunting, most of the potentially gruesome dinner footage is never seen. This is truly a film for everyone in the family, and neither too dry for kids nor too cute for adults. Hakuna matata, in other words.

(This film is rated G)