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1 review, 3 user ratings

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by Scott Weinberg

"Disney adventure about three kids and a cheetah. It ain't deep."
3 stars

When people think of "Disney movies", their first visions are generally of little mermaids, lion kings, flying elephants, and a certain seven dwarfs. With few (mostly recent) exceptions, the Disney animated films are crowd-pleasing classics and worldwide favorites. The same can not be said for Disneyís live-action efforts.

Throughout the 1950ís and 1960ís, the studio released a few true classics (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Treasure Island, among others) and then dallied mainly in silly slapstick (The Love Bug, Freaky Friday) and even sillier western comedies (Hot Lead and Cold Feet, The Apple Dumpling Gang) in the 70ís. In the early 80ís, the studio took a big leap and created Silver Screen Partners, Touchstone Pictures, etc. No longer content to produce solely "kid-friendly" curiosities, Disney was now a major studio player.

The Animated Classics would continue unabated, as would that one other (quieter) staple of the Disney canon: the animal flick. From the very beginning, the powers-that-be at Disney knew one thing very well: Kids. Love. Animals. From the early African documentaries that showed wild animals in their natural habitat to this recent and insipid Snow Dogs, the Disney studios have consistently introduced new generations to the simple joy of "watching animals". While Disneyís live-action-animal output has waned in quality over the past few years, every once in a while a sweet little winner crops up. 1983ís Never Cry Wolf is a small masterpiece, 1985ís The Journey of Natty Gann is an underrated treasure, and 1989 brought a paper-thin, yet still charming, African adventure entitled Cheetah.

There's not much about the plot of Cheetah that screams originality, but that won't prevent families from enjoying it. Young Ted and Sarah have just arrived in Kenya to spend six months with their parents. Dad is hard at work trying to get a new satellite facility up and running, which leaves lots of time for the restless teens to get into trouble. Ignoring their parents' requests to stay close to home, Ted and Sarah begin exploring the African countryside and promptly make friends with a clever tribal boy named Morogo. While taking in some of the neighborhoodís more impressive creatures, the trio discovers an orphaned young cheetah. The three well-intentioned kids bring the kitten home and raise it on their own, while a local businessman (and his unseemly associates) plots to kidnap the tamed beast and exploit her in a low-rent greyhound race.

Aside from a movie critic who is dutifully filling his responsibilities, I canít see any grown-ups being enraptured by Cheetah. But thereís a lot here that the kiddies will like, and itís delivered with a minimum of the outright schmaltz thatís become so prevalent in Disneyís more recent efforts. Sure, these kids disobey their parents and almost end up stamped by elephants, but itís all in the name of loyalty and friendship... plus (of course) nobody gets hurt.

All of the outdoor vistas range from passable to quite impressive, but the animal footage never overpowers the (admittedly flimsy) story line. The acting performances are all solid, if nothing unspectacular. Both young leads have been better in other films; Keith Coogan in Adventures in Babysitting and Lucy Deakins in The Boy Who Could Fly. The mini-jewel of the cast is Colin Mothupi as Morogo; the character could easily have been "that native kid", but Mothupi has an unprofessional charm - and heís just a fun kid to watch.

Cheetah is probably a charming and colorful enough affair for young kids, but DVD buyers should consider themselves forewarned; this DVD comes in a Fullscreen-only format, and I for one think itís a minor travesty. Sure, there may not be a whole lot of demand for a relatively forgettable little animal-adventure flick, but to butcher up such a beautiful-looking movie is simply a shame. Though many of the animal sequences seem comprised of stock footage, thereís no denying that Cheetah offers a lot of gorgeous cinematography and breathtaking African landscapes... all of which suffer ridiculously when cropped and zoomed in this atrocious Full Frame format.

Regardless of a filmís popularity, itís nothing short of art vandalism when a movie is presented solely in this ugly and wholly unnecessary format. Simply put: NO MORE Pan & Scan DVD releases!!

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originally posted: 04/29/04 17:25:27
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User Comments

1/08/09 Shaun Wallner Wonderful story. 3 stars
4/17/03 Zach BEST family film EVER. Not very known either. 5 stars
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  18-Aug-1989 (PG)



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