Forget Lions, PBS’ New Leopard Tale Is Just As Engaging, Entertaining as ‘The Lion King’ If Not Better

Courtesy: WNET/PBS/PBS Distribution

When Walt Disney Studios debuted its animated movie The Lion King in 1994, the movie became an instant classic for the studio and has remained a favorite in the nearly 30 years since its premiere.  As much of a hit as The Lion King remains, it is fiction.  All of this is being mentioned because this past April, PBS premiered a new episode of Nature that one could easily argue is a counter to that movie in the form of The Leopard Legacy.  Released to DVD in June, now audiences can enjoy this presentation anytime.  The story featured in this nearly hour-long episode of Nature forms its foundation and will be discussed shortly.  The story featured in this episode is just one part of what makes it worth watching.  Its cinematography adds to its appeal, too, and will be discussed a little later.  The story’s transitions and pacing round out the program’s most important elements and complete its presentation.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the program.  All things considered they make The Leopard Legacy another interesting episode of Nature and a presentation that is as good as The Lion King if not better.

The Leopard Legacy is an interesting new episode of PBS’ long-running wildlife series, Nature.  While the program centers on a pair of big cats covered in spots, it is a presentation that is anything but spotty.  Yes, that awful pun was intended.  All jokes aside, it is a powerful, memorable episode of Nature.  That is proven in part through its central story.  The story in question follows a mother leopard and her son as they grow together in Africa’s Luangwa River Valley.  The story is just as good as Disney’s timeless 1994 animated movie The Lion King if not better.  That is because this story of survival is real.  There are no unnecessary musical numbers, catch phrases, etc.  Audiences will be moved as the leopardess Olimba searches for her lost daughter, only to have to realize she is gone.  It makes the connection between Olimba and her growing cub, Makumbi that much more engaging.  The love that is shown between mother and son is engaging and entertaining to say the very least.  Noma Dumezweni’s narration is just as notable here as she tells the story of the pair’s life together.  Not to give away too much, but there is a confrontation between mother and son late in the story that is in such contrast to the love shown earlier in Makumbi’s life that it really becomes a truly shocking moment.  The details of that confrontation will be left for audiences to discover for themselves.  The aftermath of that confrontation does its own share to keep viewers engaged because of its surprising nature.  When this aspect of the overall story is considered against everything else noted here and the story of Makumbi’s own development as a hunter, the whole makes this near hour-long episode of Nature a completely engaging and entertaining story that is as good as any existing episode of the series.  The story at the center of The Leopard Legacy is just part of what makes this episode of Nature so strong.  The cinematography presented here adds its own appeal to the story.

The cinematography noted here is so important because of the aesthetic value that it adds to the story.  The footage capturing mother and son’s separate hunting is a prime example of the importance of that aspect.  Viewers will find themselves actively watching as Olimba hunts and catches a fleet-footed denizen of the valley.  The precision with which she approaches the hunt and kill is so powerful.  Audiences will be completely engaged as they watch Olimba stalk her prey methodically and then eventually chase and make the kill.  On a similar note, watching Makumbi try and try again to catch a stork is just as powerful.  The big reason that these moments are so engaging is not just the moments, but also how they are captured.  The moments are presented in regular speed.  There is no unnecessary slow motion effect used in any instance.  It would have been so easy to get schleppy and go that route – many existing Nature episodes have done so, too – but thankfully that did not happen here.  It is an aesthetic element, but it makes the story that much more immersive.

The footage of the duo hunting and killing is just part of what makes the cinematography stand out.  The general cinematography stands out just as much as that used in the noted moments.  What has to be assumed is drone footage used to show the impact of the rains on the valley does so well to show that vast impact.  Similarly, the wide ground shots of Olimba with a herd of elephants far in the distance creates a wonderful visual contrast in its own right.    Yet another wonderful shot comes as a flock of small birds takes to the sky together.  The birds are not trying to avoid danger.  They are just taking flight.  The mass of birds makes for its own interesting moment and just one more example of what makes the cinematography so important to the episode’s presentation.  It is just one more part of what makes the episode worth watching.  The collective transitions and pacing throughout the program puts the final touch to the episode.

The transitions and pacing is important because they are so smooth throughout the story.  This is exemplified early on in Olimba’s fight with a lone, nomadic leopard and discovery soon after that one of her cubs is gone.  The story moves fluidly from the noted conflict to the search for her missing cub.  Even from there to the realization that the unnamed cub is gone, the transition is solid.  As Makumbi grows, the transitions are just as solid.  Audiences see Makumbi first as a cub, and then as an adolescent, and then as an adult throughout the story.  Each stage of his life is separated expertly from one another.  At the same time, the story of mother and son’s development moves so smoothly and fluidly through each transition from stage to stage.  It all ensures collectively, that the story keeps viewers engaged and entertained throughout.  When this element, which is just as important as the story itself and the story’s cinematography, is considered with those noted elements, the whole makes clear why The Leopard Legacy is such an engaging and entertaining new episode of Nature.

Nature: The Leopard Legacy is a strong new entry to the long-running series.  Its appeal comes in large part through its story.  The story is simple yet so powerful.  That is because it is a story of family and survival.  It is real, natural drama unlike so much of what is on television today.  The cinematography that accompanies the story adds to the episode’s appeal.  That is because of the various angles that are used on the ground and in the air.  It also avoids the trope of using slow motion where it otherwise could have.  That makes for a certain amount of respect in its own right.  The story’s transitions and pacing put the final touch to the presentation.  They keep the episode moving fluidly from start to end.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of this episode of Nature.  All things considered, they make the episode one more of this year’s top new documentaries.  It is available now.

More information on this and other episodes of Naure is available online at:

Websitehttps://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/PBSNature

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/PBSNature

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