Duma is one of Hollywood's better attempts at live-action family-friendly fare. The film, helmed by Carroll Ballard (Fly Away Home, The Black Stallion), does not resort to the gross-out antics of so many of its contemporaries. Rather, Duma relies on an emotional coming-of-age story set against a beautiful African backdrop to engage the audience and to deliver a powerful and satisfying film.
The movie opens with what could easily be footage from a National Geographic documentary. Barren land. Sun-choked vegetation. Panting animals. But, the image grows unsettling as a once-complacent lion sets his sights on a coalition of cheetah cubs. In an instant, the footage becomes brutal in the harsh reality of the animal kingdom, as the mother cheetah sacrifices herself for the safety of her babies. Yet, the opening scenes suggest that humans could learn a lesson or two from animals. Life walks a delicate balance between beautiful and brutal, and continues its march to time's beat regardless.
The plot is simple: Duma is the story of a boy and his adopted cheetah, whom he names Duma (Swahili for "cheetah"). But, simple does not mean simplistic. In this case, simple means understated, reflective, and timeless.
The film, adapted from an autobiography by Xan Hopcraft, follows the journeys of an extraordinary character—12-year-old Xan (played superbly by newcomer Alexander Michaletos), who is carefree and amiable. Yet, when his father (Campbell Scott) becomes terminally ill, Xan trades in his innocuous free spirit for a burdened stoic soul. He holds his cards close to his vest, so much so that even his mother (American Splendor's Hope Davis), a compassionate presence in the film, cannot break through Xan's hardened exterior to help him ...1
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