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'The Last Lions': Nothing spared of life on the savanna

Ma di Tau and her two surviving cubs are the central characters in The Last Lions.
Ma di Tau and her two surviving cubs are the central characters in The Last Lions.

People who complain about the "Disneyfication" of nature documentaries should check out the big-cat documentary The Last Lions.

It gives its lioness heroine a name, Ma di Tau (mother of lions), and is narrated, floridly, by Jeremy Irons, the voice of Scar in The Lion King. But nothing is censored from the "circle of life" in Derek Joubert's film. Grim death stalks this lioness, her mate and their three cubs.

When males of a rival pride attack Ma di Tau's mate, they maul him so severely that the camera is there as he breathes his last. She is attacked by the lionesses of that pride and is wounded severely, but she blinds one of her attackers (named Silver Eye for the rest of the film).

She protects the cubs with varying degrees of success as she tries to learn to hunt buffalo, feed herself and her family, and thus pass on her genes and her mate's genes to another generation.

Yes, there are crocodiles. Yes, small, cute animals die. Yes, that certainly looks like a mother's grief, even in wild animal form.

That said, it's a gorgeous film filled with the sort of footage one can get only with patience and persistence. Vast Botswana vistas show off the geography and meteorology, the flora and fauna of the place. And Irons' narration (written by Joubert) is nothing if not "life lived by tooth and claw."

The tiny cubs face "one long line of enemies out to get them, a strange way to start life as 'King of the Beasts.'"

Unlike most nature documentaries, The Last Lions isn't preachy, sugar- coated or particularly cautionary, although there are warnings of steep decline in the lion population and the encroachment of humans on their habitat. It's a vivid, blunt and candid look at their kill-or-be-killed existence, which Joubert writes and Irons narrates is "the eternal dance of Africa."

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