African Cats: Journey to Africa

The adventure documentary African Cats, starring Samuel L. Jackson, will be released by Disneynature on April 22.

An epic true story set against the backdrop of one of the wildest places on Earth, “African Cats” captures the real-life love, humor and determination of the majestic kings of the savanna. Narrated by the Oscar®-nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson, the story features Mara, an endearing lion cub who strives to grow up with her mother’s strength, spirit and wisdom; Sita, a fearless cheetah and single mother of five mischievous newborns; and Fang, a proud leader of the pride who must defend his family from a rival lion. Disneynature brings “The Lion King” to life on the big screen in this True Life Adventure directed by Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill (“Earth”).

“We were very excited to work with Disneynature and have the chance to make a film that’s for the cinema,” says Fothergill. “We can showcase the beauty of the animals and the size of the landscape and all of the amazing sounds of the Masai Mara in a way I don’t think has ever been done before. Since we’re using high-definition cameras, audiences will see every hair on the back of the cheetahs and the lions.”

“When we were in the bush and heard a lion roar, the sound was so deep and so powerful, our car would rattle and shake,” adds Scholey. “We want people to share that experience, to feel dangerously close to the action. People will jump out of their seats when they hear our lions roar for the first time in ‘African Cats.’”

The film, produced by Scholey and Alix Tidmarsh, is the third release for Disneynature; “Earth” hit the big screen in 2009, “Oceans” in 2010. Launched in April 2008 to bring the world’s top nature filmmakers together to capture a variety of wildlife subjects and stories, Disneynature continues the efforts of Walt Disney himself, who was a pioneer in wildlife documentary filmmaking, producing 13 True Life Adventure motion pictures between 1949 and 1960, including “Seal Island” (1949), “Beaver Valley” (1950), “The Living Desert” (1953) and “Jungle Cat” (1958). The films earned eight Academy Awards®.

“Disneynature films are story-driven,” says Disneynature President Jean-François Camilleri. “‘African Cats’ is an incredible drama with great characters and powerful images and belongs on the big screen. Story really is key—whether it’s an animated film, a comedy, a thriller or a nature film, people go to the cinema for great stories.”

Adds Fothergill, “With lions and cheetahs, we’re able to tell a story that is not only very exciting but true, and that’s wonderfully appealing. There is so much artifice in cinema these days, so much CGI, so little of that is real, but none of the behavior and none of the images in ‘African Cats’ are manipulated. Everything is factually accurate.”

By working with the best wildlife directors, says Camilleri, Disneynature offers nature as never seen before. “I think the film’s message is that nature is beautiful. There’s no preaching about doing this or that to protect the environment, but I think if people come out of the movie just marveling at the beauty of this world they have just seen on screen, then maybe they will want to know more about how we can protect it.

“So many people live apart from nature these days that a film like this is a wonderful escape into the natural world,” Camilleri continues. “It’s a movie for everyone. It’s a great family movie, of course, but anyone who loves nature, anyone who loves a great story will enjoy this film.”

“African Cats” is rated G by the MPAA. An awe-inspiring adventure blending family intimacy with the power and cunning of the wild, “African Cats” leaps into U.S. theaters on Earth Day, April 22, 2011.

Disneynature will collaborate with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) on a program to celebrate the release of “African Cats.” During the film’s opening week (April 22-28), a portion of the proceeds from that week’s ticket sales will be donated to the organization through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to ensure the future of lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, giraffes and a host of other animals in the vibrant African savanna. The AWF will be working to protect the Amboseli Wildlife Corridor, a passage between the Amboseli, Tsavo West and Chyulu National Parks that is frequently used by a variety of wildlife. To learn more, visit

Deep within the arid continent of Africa is a hidden paradise, a home for the greatest number of wild animals on our planet. Here, the African cats still rule, and their dedication to their families is unyielding. But taking care of the young and protecting their loved ones is not easy. The world around them is an unsympathetic, one with challenging conditions and eager competitors. Raw power rules the day.

The Republic of Kenya stretches across the equator in East Africa and is bordered by Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan. Its southeastern border lies along the Indian Ocean. The country has a population of approximately 40 million and is named for Mount Kenya, Africa’s second-highest mountain, traditionally regarded as a sacred place.

The country was an important military base for Britain during both world wars; Kenya gained its independence in 1963 and declared itself a republic one year later. The county’s capital and by far its largest city is Nairobi, which has a population of nearly 3 million. Kenya’s present-day economy is based on a very successful tourism industry, agriculture and a growing industrial and manufacturing sector.

The Great Rift Valley is a vast geological feature that stretches more than 3,700 miles from northern Syria to the mouth of the Zambezi River in Mozambique. The Masai Mara, which is in the southwest region of Kenya, is located on the edge of the southern Rift Valley. The cat families of “African Cats” make their homes in the Masai Mara National Reserve, located on the border of Tanzania, approximately 125 miles from the capital city of Nairobi.

“It’s like being at the beginning of the world,” says Disneynature President Jean-François Camilleri. “You get the feeling that things haven’t changed here for millions of years. It’s really a paradise and there is nowhere else like it for seeing wildlife: In just a few hours, you can see a huge number of different animals and get very close to them.”

Covering an area of roughly 580 square miles, the Mara, which means “spotted” or “mottled” in the Masai language, adjoins the much larger Serengeti and, in its sheer concentration and diversity of wildlife, is one of the most remarkable natural habitats on Earth. The reserve is home to a dizzying array of species, and as many as a million migrating animals pass through the park each year.

“The Masai Mara is a protected area,” says Director Keith Scholey, “but the population of Africa is increasing very quickly, which will put huge pressures on wildlife areas across the country. It’s going to take a huge amount of will and effort if we want to be sure these places survive for future generations.

“It would be great if people saw the film and thought about these issues,” continues Scholey. “But the goal of the film is to engage people with these remarkable creatures, to understand their lives and feel enveloped in their world. If you make an emotional connection, then you are going to think, ‘This is a world we have to save.’”

With its rolling plains and scattered trees, the vast grasslands of the Mara accord with the popular safari image and play host to huge herds of grazing animals—wildebeests, zebras and gazelles among them—and the predators that feed on them. The Mara River, a mix of deep pools and often treacherous rapids, is home to wallowing hippos and to crocodiles that lie in wait for crossing animals. Seasonal wetlands provide lush grass nearly year-round and attract buffalo as well as elephants and other grazers. Small bands of forest along the banks of the Mara and Talek rivers provide perfect cover for elephants, buffalo, small antelope, several species of monkeys and literally hundreds of different kinds of birds. Isolated fig trees and sausage trees that are dotted throughout the park provide shade for many different animals and fruit and leaves that are food for elephants, giraffes and various monkeys.

The Mara is one of the few remaining places in Africa where the three big African cats—lions, cheetahs and leopards—live in large numbers and in close proximity. In the heart of this place lives the River Pride, a dominant group of lions that roam the hills south of the Mara River. A second group of male lions—a powerful father and his four sons—rule the area north of the river. The River Pride is threatened by these lions from the north who are awaiting the perfect opportunity to move in. Tucked within the open grasslands between the clans of lions is a mother cheetah and her babies.

Capturing riveting images of animals few people ever get to see up close, filmmakers spent many months following the real-life drama and emotion of the Mara. “It really is like no other place in Africa,” says Scholey, “no other place on Earth, really. You land at the airstrip and drive 20 minutes to camp, and you will likely see all the African animals you ever dreamt of—herds of wildebeest, zebra, elephants, giraffes, lions and the elusive cheetah. It’s much more difficult anywhere else.”