The Leopard Son

on September 27, 1996 by Sean O'Neill
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   "The Leopard Son" is something of an anomaly in the modern marketplace. Its approach--collecting nature footage, cutting it into something resembling a story, and then slapping on a narrative voiceover by a guy with a sonorously sympathetic voice--feels like something from the '70s TV show "The Wide World of Disney," and one must wonder whether it can capture, let alone keep, the attention of the MTV- and Nintendo-addicted kiddies who are the film's intended target audience.
   Presented in the hushed, credulous tones of a fable, "The Leopard Son" tells the tale of the titular feline as he progresses from cubhood (hiding in a tree and waiting for his mother to feed him) to adolescence (playing recklessly) to early adulthood (learning to appreciate the dangers around him) and finally to maturity. Although footage ranges from merely engrossing to absolutely eye-popping--a scene of cheetahs on the hunt moves so quickly, and all within one shot, that it must be seen to be believed--it is all too often undercut by the frequently cheesy voiceover, which describes a female call as "a song that could pour honey into the heart of any leopard's son."
   Still, the ultimate question is, Will the kiddies dig it? Chances are they will, no matter how fleeting their attention span may be. Looking at "The Leopard Son" on a big screen, they'll be transported to a strange and savage place they've never seen, documented in affectionate and compelling detail. And they're sure to empathize with the travails of the cub as he grows up. One warning for parents: Don't be surprised if your child starts pestering you for a trip to Africa after seeing this film.    Narrated by John Gielgud. Directed by Hugo Van Lawick. Written by Michael Olmert. Produced by Hugo Van Lawick and Tim Cowling. A Discovery Channel Pictures release. Rated G. Running time: 87 min. Opens 9/27 top 20 markets; expands in October.
Tags: John Gielgud, Directed by Hugo Van Lawick, Written by Michael Olmert, Produced by Hugo Van Lawick, Tim Cowling, Discovery Channel Pictures, Nintendo, MTV, engrossing, eye-popping, cheesy
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