"The Leopard Son" offers no Disneyfication of nature, where all the creatures are more than human and never seem to eat a thing. The movie honestly depicts the brutality that comes with survival.
This big-screen release produced by the Discovery Channel may not be as bloody as some recent wildlife TV and video episodes that show every hungry bite taken by predators big and small, but it is into reality. More than a few parents who attended a recent screening of this critically applauded family movie were a little surprised by that.
"I thought it was really very good, [but] I wish I'd been warned," said Beverly Francone of Mission Viejo, who decided to take her son, Adam, 11, and daughter, Maria, 9, after reading positive reviews. "There were a lot of [graphic scenes of] hunting, and I should have told my kids before. Now, I'll just explain after."
That said, Francone and other parents still recommended the film, saying the entire family could enjoy watching the leopard grow from a cute, bumbling cub to a handsome, graceful big cat. Just about all agreed that the African scenery was beautiful, there was much interesting information and the basic story was touchingly told, even with the predatory moments.
"The [hunting] scenes didn't really bother me because that's the way it is, [and] kids should know that," explained Mark Longdon of Irvine, his 8-year-old daughter, Ashley, in tow. "I held her hand [during the hunting] and she was OK. She liked seeing the leopard grow up."
When asked whether it was troubling when the lions attacked herds of gazelles or killed hyena pups, the girl assertively said that nothing about "The Leopard Son" upset her. What stuck with Ashley was how adorable the cub was and how close he was to his mother, a protective parent if ever there was one.
"She was always helping him," Ashley said.
Maria Francone, though, did find a few passages both unsettling and confusing.
"I didn't know they [lions] did that," she said, referring to a scene in which they methodically destroyed a den of immature hyenas left unprotected by the adults.
The movie's narrator explained why. Lions systematically go about killing, but not eating, other predators to make sure there's enough food to go around. Maria's mother thought that was valuable and said "The Leopard Son" was full of facts like that.
"Much of it was new to me," Francone said.
Adam Francone's favorite scene revealed the leopard's ingenuity. When almost an adult, he's pursued by a band of surprisingly aggressive baboons. To save himself, he has to climb a tree, all the way up to the thinnest branches that somehow support him but not his attackers.
"That was smart, how he used the trees to always get away," Adam said, but added he was bored during parts of "The Leopard Son." The pace slows when the camera dwells on the landscape and animals, and the narrator lingers over several poignant scenes.
Adam liked the action best, especially the hunting. His head bobbed up and down when asked about the fierceness of the lions. He didn't say a word, but it was obvious he thought they were awesome.