In a film like this, you come to expect great scenery and beautiful photography, and there certainly is plenty of that here. Unfortunately, there's not much else. The cheetah that is the star of the picture is magnificent and well-trained, but almost all of the other animals that are filmed are stock footage which is kind of unforgivable for a film of this nature. There's even one embarrassing scene in which young Lucy Deakins is bottle feeding a painfully obvious stuffed animal.
Naturally, the film is aimed at kids, or more to the point stupid kids because the film is written at that level. Most of the adults here talk in very simple sentences, and a lot of the characters of different races and cultures are stereotypes who all conveniently speak decent English. If there's one thing the folks at Disney know is how much white people hate reading subtitles.
Deakins and co-star Keith Coogan are appealing in their roles, however, but their story is less than thrilling. You never really feel like they're in any danger, and that has more to do with the pandering towards the audience than their young African guide. "Cheetah" is a film that I really tried to like. It's a harmless, good-natured family film, but that doesn't mean that it has to be this bland an uninspired. It's very possible that young, young children may like it, but today's kids are far more sophisticated than this painfully outdated film. It takes a story that's very basic to begin with and doesn't do much with it after the fact. We should be able to expect more from this brand.
In a fit of "Christian the Lion" related fervor, my wife and I decided to rent Cheetah -- a movie about Ted and Susan, two children with very Narnian names who have re-located to Kenya to be with their scientist parents. Surprisingly, they are both enamored with Africa as soon as they arrive, and want to explore their surroundings... much to their mother's chagrin. This is how they befriend the young Morogo and come to be the proud owners of a young cheetah whose mother was killed by poachers.
The movie moves quickly at this point, showing a montage of the cheetah growing up and being tame and playful with the children. Suddenly, it's time for them to go home and leave the newly-christened Duma once and for all.
Alright, here's where the "conflict" arrives. Ted and Susan must teach Duma how to be a wild cheetah again, and the poachers decide that they want to steal a tame cheetah in order to... race her against greyhounds. How evil!
What follows is a, ahem, race against time as the children must trek across the vast wilderness of Africa in order to save Duma from these, um, sadistic men. Only the poachers seem harmless, and the supposedly dangerous trek across Africa is fairly uneventful. Oh sure, there's a couple of run-ins with enraged animals, but they are filmed with a different camera, making it obvious that the kids are in no real danger.
Occasionally, the movie decides that it should be a comedy. When this happens, the jokes are far from subtle. They're usually set up in one scene, then the punchline is in the next. For instance, the parents talk about how their children are probably safe and happy back in Pasadena... cut to the next scene, and the children are sleeping in a tree in Africa. HAHAHAHA! Get it? They're not in Pasadena at all!
I don't know, it's hard for me to get into movies like this because there's so little to lose or gain. The acting is so flat that nobody seems to be taking anything seriously. Even when the children wind up missing, the parents only seem to be going through the motions of worrying because it's in the script.
The settings and the animals are all extraordinary, but the plot is threadbare.
Aside from some cool scenes of hippos fighting each other and elephants charging, this Walt Disney film has little to offer for anybody over the age of twelve, although I do have to give the movie credit for trying its darnedest to popularize the phrase "hakuna matata" before The Lion King got a chance to.