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The Leopard Son
by Hugo van Lawick; Mat Aeberhard, ass't camera
narrated by Sir John Gielgud.
Music by Stewart Copeland

Cranky fully admits to having developed a Jones for cable TV's Discovery Channel, from whom The Leopard Son is the first big screen release. So I was actually intrigued with the idea of the flick.

Cameraman Hugo van Lawick has spent 35 years in Africa's Serengeti Plain, photographing the wildlife and raising a son (with naturalist Jane Goodall). His "pitch" to Discovery was simple: pick an animal and follow it for two years. Nature would write the story.

The "story" they got, as voiced in the narration by Sir John Gielgud, was quite extraordinary. The life of the Leopard they chose, and the cub she was raising, show nature at its most basic. Mom teaches cub to hunt and kill, and then leaves it to fend for itself. It's more than it looks.

We are introduced to an entire pecking order of animals in the plain: the Lions, who will kill off all other predators to ensure a sufficient food supply; the Hyena and Jackals, who will steal the kill from other animals; the Cheetah who, though similar to the leopard, roam in packs; the Baboon, ancient enemy of the Leopard.

Above all else fly the Swan Eagles and, as beautiful as the photography on the Plain is, and the aerial shots are spectacular.

As the true to life story plays out, there are several moments which are truly spellbinding -- where I honestly wondered what was going to happen next. But these moments were not enough to overwhelm the failure of construction of The Leopard Son.

Now this is an entirely personal thing, so feel free to discount it if you'd like. The narration does not put words into the mouths of the animals (as in, say The Lion King) which is a plus. It does, however, make strong allusions between the Leopard raising the cub and van Lawick's raising of his own son. That's called anthropomorphism, and Cranky just doesn't like it.

The second failing of The Leopard Son is, strangely enough, the narration by Sir John Gielgud. If you don't know the name (shame on you!) you most certainly know the voice, one of the most distinctive in the entire English speaking world. That's the problem -- it is is too distinctive. It took Cranky almost an hour to shake the knowledge that he was hearing Gielgud voice van Lawick's reflections and commentary. Once ignored, for the final 20 or so minutes, the film delivers at least one edge of the seat plot twist which is left, as Nature leaves a lot of things, unresolved. It is the kind of thing that would have upset my 8 year old niece tremendously.

The Leopard Son does not fail as a big screen film. Based on the reaction of the kidlet sitting behind me, who was constantly asking his mother questions about what was going on, it will fare better as a rental.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Leopard Son, he would have paid . . .

$3.00

If The Leopard Son is playing near you on a monstro-sized theater screen, see it for the cinematography. Everything else will fall into place just fine.

And, not that it is any consolation to Discovery or the filmmakers, The Leopard Son would have been a mother if shot in IMAX, which is particularly suited to nature shoots of this kind.


The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is Copyright © 1995  -  2016   by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.