Picks and Pans Review: Animals of Africa: Big Cats of the Kalahari
Half the fun of watching a nature documentary is the adventure-violence aspect. But this 70-minute video, one of a three-part series, avoids sensationalism to the point of monotony. For the first segment, filmmakers Monique Dumonte and Maurice Fievet station the camera beside a watering hole in Africa's Kalahari Desert to observe a pride of lions. Some zebras meander by with a herd of wildebeests. (Different species often band together for safety.) Meanwhile the lions just sit there until you want to scream, "Soups on! Go for it!" Turns out, according to animal expert Joan Embery, that lions seldom rush in for the kill. They wait until a young or feeble animal has wandered away from the group. Buncha bullies. Embery further undermines the king of the beasts by exposing the animal's nasty, scavengerlike practices. Sometimes lions let cheetahs and jackals do the killing, then take the carcass away from them. Embery does reveal some interesting facts about the lions and other animals lounging around the watering hole, and although the script is thorough, her delivery is academic. She's more animated on her frequent Tonight Show appearances, terrorizing Johnny with her furry friends. During the second segment of Big Cats, when cheetahs stalk antelope, Embery explains without apology that the prey has been caught while the camera is focused elsewhere. Mama cheetah doesn't kill the animal, but gives it to her cubs for practice. Embery also narrates the other tapes in the series, Africa in Flight and Hippos, Baboons and the African Elephant, which is better than Big Cats and has a not-to-be-missed segment on the scratching habits of elephants. The series is endorsed by the National Education Association, but it's simply too languorous. Big Cats plays like a sad, tranquilized lion—you wish it would snap to and gobble up a gazelle. (Celebrity Home Entertainment, $29.95; 800-445-8210)
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