Thursday Trailer Face-Off: The Last Lions vs. African Cats


Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Last Lions and African Cats, two documentary films about wild cats, both of which seem to want to be real-life versions of The Lion King (but minus the flatulent warthog).

Would you rather watch a Noah Baumbach movie about gigantic cats, or a Robert Altman movie about gigantic cats? The Last Lions is essentially a Baumbach-type family drama that follows a single-mother lioness and her two cubs, whereas African Cats is an Altman-esque ensemble picture, with intercutting narratives that follow one family of lions and one family of cheetahs. With multiple storylines, African Cats is less likely to lose our attention—plus, it gets points for diversity. Advantage: African Cats

Both trailers feature narration overflowing with gravitas, from two of the most experienced gravitas providers of our time: Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard himself) for African Cats; Jeremy Irons (Simon Gruber!) for The Last Lions. But we can’t be sure Stewart actually narrates all of African Cats—its IMDb page doesn’t indicate as much, and a news brief on his fan page (which we found while doing research, swear) only indicates that he voices the trailer. And Jeremy Irons does have one very important lion connection we can’t ignore—he voiced the villain in The Lion King. As one commenter on The Last Lions‘ YouTube trailer would have it, “The voice of Scar is narrating? Slap in the face to Simba and Mufasa.” Advantage: The Last Lions

Simply put, which movie looks prettier? Both feature sweeping views of African landscape—tellingly referred to precisely as “Botswana’s Okavango Delta” in the description for The Last Lions and simply “the savanna” for African Cats. And we trust both National Geographic and DisneyNature, respectively, to compose a shot well. But based on their trailers, African Cats is the more majestic of the two: it’s more colorful, and feels bigger in scale. Advantage: African Cats

Not surprisingly, it seems Disney whitewashes its subjects’ lives a little: the African Cats trailer makes life as an African mammal look peaceful and serene, which presumably it isn’t. Since The Last Lions, by contrast, is a National Geographic project, its description can get a little more harrowing: “An ostracized lioness and her two cubs must fight alone to survive—overcoming all manner of hazard, from the raging wildfires on the Delta, to the jealousy of sister lionesses, to the marauding males who kill her mate, to the prey that becomes predator.” Danger at every turn! Advantage: The Last Lions

Both trailers include some gratuitous baby-wildcat shots, and why not? They’re a guaranteed sell: lion and cheetah cubs will never not be adorable. But The Last Lions trailer is really more about the cubs’ mother; the African Cats trailer heaps cub upon cub, each moment cuter than the last. (How about at 1:01, when the cheetah cub makes that tiny “pew, pew” noise?) Advantage: African Cats

All around, The Last Lions seems the more serious endeavor, and nowhere is this more evident than in the two films’ musical choices. The Last Lions‘ trailer features suspenseful, drums-driven music with authentic-sounding (though we’re no experts) African vocal chants. African Cats involves some kind of beatific adult-contemporary tune, the chorus of which literally goes, “Life… is beautiful!” Seriously, who sings this song? Train? Aqualung? Snow Patrol? Advantage: The Last Lions

The Last Lions
was directed  by Dereck Joubert, who previously directed a TV doc called Eye of the Leopard, a video doc called Relentless Enemies (ooh!), and a film called Whispers: An Elephant’s Tale, which is hilarious because we’ve never heard an elephant whisper anything. African Cats has two directors; it’s co-director Keith Scholey’s first feature film, and he’s produced a bunch of episodes of Nature and Nova. But it’s really all about African Cats‘ first-listed director, Alastair Fothergill, who besides getting brownie points for his silly name is also the man responsible for Disney’s Earth and for eleven episodes of the amazing series that inspired it, Planet Earth. Advantage: African Cats

Which of these movies you should see probably depends on what kind mood you’re in, honestly—they’re both African-cat movies, but one is for people with a Serious Interest who want to see some prey get devoured and don’t mind being reminded that lions are a dwindling species, and the other is for people with a Casual Interest who want to see cheetah cubs frolic in front of the African sunset. We’re personally of two minds on the matter, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re going to shell out for the cuter one. Winner: African Cats