REVIEWS: The Leopard Son

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1996:

The Leopard Son
New theatre release, from Discovery Channel Pictures (1996).

Leopards are to lions on the
Serengeti Plain of Tanzania much as coyotes
are to wolves in Yellowstone National Park:
smaller, smarter, less celebrated, and sure to
be killed if ever caught by their bigger, more
territorial kin.
Like coyotes, leopards deserve
more appreciation. Cinematographer Hugo
van Lawick has the right idea with T h e
Leopard Son, Discovery Channel Pictures’
first full-length feature film, to be released
September 27. As the maker of the awardwinning
People of the Forest: The Chimps of
Gombe, about the work of his ex-wife Jane
Goodall, van Lawick is up to the job.

The on-site filming is exquisite––
and the scene is set with a Shakespearian
moral dilemma, when after a year in the
wilderness the Leopard Son returns to his
birth tree, finding his young brother and sister
just as a marauding lion jumps their mother.
Will the Leopard Son leap to the
rescue? He doesn’t, arriving too late, but
we’re building toward another climax: Will
he kill the cubs and claim the habitat? Or will
he feed and protect his siblings, who otherwise
will starve? Narrator Sir John Gielgud
tensely poses the question. Stewart
Copeland’s musical score builds to a peak.
The Leopard Son slinks off with a
passing female.
Neither a kill-and-eat-the-poor right
winger, nor a politically correct nurturing liberal,
the Leopard Son would seem to be
instead a self-serving hedonist. That plays in
Playboy, but isn’t likely to play in Peoria.
Though nature may have no morals, successful
films have plots, plots turn upon moral
choice, and the film that evades choice for
better or worse, true to life or not, is likely to

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