This terrific family film made Judge Brett Cullum think seriously about a cheetah as a pet, but the litter box issue ultimately discouraged him.
Some friendships are wilder than others.
There's nothing like the bond between a boy and his cat. Duma is about a South African boy named Zan (Alexander Michaeltos) who ends up saving an orphaned cheetah he finds on the side of the road. He raises the kitten until it is full grown, but circumstances dictate that Duma must head back to the wild. Distraught over the recent death of his father (Campbell Scott, The Secret Lives of Dentists), Zan decides to take the cat into the wild on his own. So begins a picturesque journey through the landscapes of Africa. Zan hooks up with a mysterious drifter (Eamon Walker, Oz) who may not have Duma's best interest at heart. Zan will have to grow up before the journey ends, and Duma will have to remember how to be wild.
Duma is the latest animal epic from Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion, Fly Away Home). It has all the magic the director normally injects into his films, including great cinematography, a simple story, an earnest boy, and animals. The movie was based on a true story, and it is told with a wide-eyed wonder that harkens back to a simpler time in movies. The wonder is that Duma is a real cheetah (or at least one of several used in the filming), never a fluffy CGI effect. The kid and the cat are amazing together, and they make a soulful pair of friends. Duma was never released widely on multiplex screens across the country, as the studio ascertained it would not do incredible box office in today's climate of star-studded "hype machine" titles. It is a quiet family film that will appeal to a wide audience but will find more success as a DVD release than as a competitor for the top weekend spot at the box office. What a shame, because I remember a time when The Black Stallion was a major event.
The stunning aspect of Duma is the chance to see a cheetah up close and personal. Cheetahs are the smallest of the "big" cats, and also quite trainable in many ways. Kings and conquerors kept them as pets, although it is illegal to do so now (for good reason). Surprisingly, cheetahs do not roar. They are the only big cats who can purr on both exhale and inhale, and they make chirping noises rather than big primal calls. Socially they are interesting, because the females always live alone. At one point in Duma, Zan says "Oh! You've found a friend." I wondered how the kid knew it wasn't a female, but males pair up for life in packs while the females remain alone, so any pair of cheetahs, or pack of them, is all male. The cheetahs featured in the movie are gentle, graceful creatures who steal the movie easily. The best reason to watch Duma is to fall in love with the cheetah.
The DVD release for Duma is nearly bare bones, with only two extended scenes as extras. The transfer is quite good, with naturalistic colors and a nice full surround mix that serves the feature well. Animal sounds are authentic, and my poor house cat began to mutter nervously as the cheetah's chirps and growls filled the room. Here is a wonderful little movie the whole family can enjoy. Duma is easily one of the best all-ages movie I've seen in a long time, and there's nothing but some scary animal action to garner it a PG rating. Duma is a great movie that appeals to our love of both children and animals.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Extended Scenes
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