Disclaimer: The following article concerns an in-progress documentary. These are impressions of an early print of a work still in post-production.
This past Wednesday I had a chance to catch an advance screening of The Last Lions, the new National Geographic film from the team who brought us 2005’s March of the Penguins. Having never seen March and not fancying myself a lion fanatic, I wasn’t too pumped about the experience. Add in the film’s “unfinished” status—meaning anything from soundtrack and narration changes to severe editing before wide release—and I could barely drag myself to the theater.
What a fool I was.
This in-progress doc following a mother lioness’s struggles to keep her cubs alive in the face of thousands of hostile buffalo and the rival pride who killed her husband turned out to be one of the best film-going experiences I’ve had this dismal Summer. If you grew up loving The Lion King or nature docs, you’re going to eat this movie up with delight; it provides an in-depth understanding of the life of a mother lioness, informing audiences of an animal lifestyle both extremely interesting and compelling.
As mentioned before, The Last Lions tells the story of a mother lioness who must defend her children against the wild African terrain. She must study buffalo from afar to learn their weaknesses before striking, constantly defend against vengeful pride attacks on her cubs, and go out solo in hunt of food for her children. There are brush fires and alligator attacks—lion-on-lion warfare and pride vs herd battles. This isn’t some boring documentary that drones on about mating habits, evolution, or whatever else you may find on Discovery late one night—it’s an all-out struggle for survival focused on the fiercest creature in the animal kingdom. Hans Zimmer lends a temporary soundtrack in the form of his score for The Dark Knight, and though the filmmaker will probably swap audio before wide release, I can’t imagine better music for the events that unfold on-screen.
I’m a Disney fanatic and The Lion King is one my favorite films of all-time; The Last Lions provides a lens for adults to appreciate Disney’s masterpiece in a wholly new way. There is no direct allusion to the film—you’ll simply recognize Mufasa’s courage and Scar’s jealousy in the lions’ actions, will learn to hate hyenas just as you did with King’s evil triumvirate of idiotic scavengers. The best compliment I can give this film is that it recaptures the dramatic tension crafted by Disney’s studios in our own natural world—by the film’s close you desperately care about the mother lioness and want her to succeed despite unbeatable odds. You’ll discover newfound appreciation for an animal usually only witnessed sleeping at the local zoo—will learn why the lion truly is the king of the jungle. Though it’s aimed at animal conservation, the film is never preachy in its agenda—most of its ninety minute runtime is spent showcasing the thrilling life of these beasts, making audiences understand why they should care about the disappearance of the wild lion rather than just telling us we should. It’s a thrilling documentary that will pull on heartstrings left undusted since childhood, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product later this year.