Movie - Cheetah is a little live action Disney film that you most likely haven't heard of. Low budget and low profile, Cheetah features just one actor you have probably seen in other films: Keith Coogan (Adventures in Babysitting). But this little film is a favorite in my family; it has been for several years now. So imagine how thrilled I was when I heard that Cheetah finally would be arriving on DVD (one of my most-anticipated unreleased movies on the format) and sooner than I thought (considering the large number of high-profile Disney live-action catalogue titles still missing in action). This movie's simplicity and charm make it a winner. The film follows two California teenagers who are spending their summer in Kenya with their parents. The exotic African lifestyle that Ted (Coogan) and Sarah (Lucy Deakins) envision seems as distant as ever upon arriving there and being relegated to not stray far from the familiar house the Johnson family is renting in a relatively urban environment. Recognizing the splendor that Africa offers, though, Ted and Sarah give into their youthful exuberance and decide to check out some of the African sights around them. They meet with a local tribesboy named Morogo (nicely played by Collin Mothupi, in his first role and, unfortunately one of his only) who acts as a guide to his new American friends, showing them the creatures and locations of the village. While out exploring, the three youngsters come across a young cheetah whose mother has fallen at the hands of poachers. Ted and Sarah convince their reluctant parents to let them adopt the cheetah, and they name their new pet Duma. But when it comes time for the two kids to go return to California for the school year, Ted and Sarah are having trouble saying goodbye to their cheetah, especially since they suspect that something foul is going on. Witty, suspenseful, and smart, Cheetah is a film which is utterly entertaining and enjoyable for the whole family.
Video - The back of the package uses a quote which says "That rarest of movies...an entertaining, beautifully photographed family film." (Gannett) I'd agree with the quote both with its description of Cheetah and its statement about the rarity of beautifully photographed family films. There just aren't an abundance of movies that fit the bill. Unfortunately, Disney didn't see it fit to release this beautifully photographed film in all its glory, and this Pan & Scan-only DVD release effectively cuts up a percentage of the beautiful photography. A movie with such wonderful-looking scenery certainly deserves to be seen in its original aspect ratio, to preserve the photography composition. However, Disney thought it'd be cheaper to port over the old Pan & Scan laserdisc transfer, and so to date, Cheetah keeps its status as having never been seen in its original aspect ratio on a home video format. LD, VHS, and DVD all present this wonderful movie in 1.33:1 Pan & Scan ratio. The little notification regarding the film being modified from its original version is relegated to tiny print on the back of the DVD case. The DVD itself shows no warning before the movie begins. I was extremely looking forward to seeing this movie in its original widescreen format, and it is a shame that Disney has done this film an injustice, now for the third viewing format. Had Anchor Bay held the DVD rights to this movie, we would undoubtedly, have received both widescreen and pan and scan transfers on the same disc. But Disney does not seem to hold the same regard that Anchor Bay holds for Disney's very own films. Not only is Cheetah cut up for DVD, but the video transfer is rather poor. Surely, this film wasn't created on the most expensive film stock, but the amount of print flaws, shimmering, and grain varies from scene to scene, and is most definitely noticeable. A widescreen transfer would have meant remastering and this movie would have greatly benefitted from that.
Audio - Cheetah is presented in 2.0 Dolby Surround. You'd think a film almost entirely set outdoors, and in the lands of Africa, would make for a nice 5.1 track to engulf the viewer in the natural beauty the movie so prominently features. But, it is not to be. The Dolby Surround track is okay, but the rear channel gets very little action, and one certainly gets the feeling that a stronger effort (assuming any effort was made) could have been made to create a more dynamic and active audio experience for this DVD.
Extras - This is about as barebones as it gets. Three menu screens (Captions, Scene Selections, and the Main Menu) are all. Ironically, these static menu screens look quite nice, and are anamorphic widescreen. Why the main feature couldn't be anamorphic widescreen...I don't know. This disc doesn't even contain Cheetah's trailer or even the expected sneak peeks at other upcoming Disney DVD releases. This barebones disc will certainly not sell well enough to get a widescreen re-release, and the geniuses who make the decisions to release movies in Pan & Scan only will likely see low sales numbers as a lack of interest in this title. (These are the same geniuses at Disney, who, trying to maximize the marketing potential of the one recognizable Keith Coogan, have plastered a large image of the late-80's teen star's face on the new DVD cover, in place of the more pleasing old VHS cover which featured the three main youngsters.)
Closing Thoughts - In the rush to churn out basic basic DVDs of its catalogue full of live-action movies, Disney is giving us pitiful discs for movies that deserve far better. Cheetah is a little movie, and while I didn't expect a 2-disc set, having the movie in its original aspect ratio and with at the very least its original theatrical trailer would not have been asking too much, in my opinion. This is certainly not a title that Disney is likely to re-release in an enhanced Special Edition, so if you like the movie, this is what you're stuck with. Since so few people have seen this movie, I was hoping Disney's DVD release would enable more people to see and appreciate this little film. But alas, many are likely to pass on the pan & scan DVD with this pitiful presentation. With a $14.99 retail price, a widescreen disc with a trailer or featurette would have been a no-brainer recommendation for this film that I enjoy very much. Instead, with the DVD the way it is, I have trouble recommending such a skimpy disc, but I still recommend that you check out the movie. Click here to purchase this DVD