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By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 19, 1989


Jeff Blyth
Keith Coogan;
Lucy Deakins
General audience

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The major problem with "Cheetah" is that there isn't enough of this astounding animal, and all too much of us humans. Echoing "Born Free," "Cheetah" never comes close to either the entertainment values or the emotional pull of that film.

It tells the story of yet another white family living temporarily in Africa, at a remote Kenyan research center. As their parents are absorbed with their work, the generic boy and girl (Keith Coogan and Lucy Deakins) stumble upon a newly orphaned cheetah cub, which they adopt and name Duma. They also stumble across a young Masai lad, Morogo (Collin Mothupi), who gradually teaches them the way of the land. The parents don't appreciate the friendship, wondering what the children can learn from each other, but don't worry -- this is a Disney film and we'll get the point before the final credits.

After a compressed idyllic summer in which Duma grows to considerable size and proves to be an adroit soccer player and speed demon, the plot gets complicated: The kids must go back to California and (shades of "Born Free") train the housebroken and spoiled Duma to hunt and live in the wild again. Concurrently, a seedy local merchant and gambler decides to steal Duma and race her against greyhounds. Which he and his two stooges do, and the rest of the film focuses on the efforts to rescue Duma.

One suspects that the skittish Duma and her doubles didn't take too well to Jeff Blyth's direction, because there's not much in the way of animal footage. That leaves us with those much less interesting humans: the naive, intrepid teenagers searching for Duma in the wilds; the evil merchant and his cohorts, embodying disturbing Indian stereotypes; the noble Morogo, who Knows the Way, and so on.

For most of the film, it seems these folks are the only people in Kenya, but there's an absurd finale in which Duma appears for a showdown at the Nairobi equivalent of the Kentucky Derby. It's all rather silly, and tame. There is some good photography -- the land is stunning -- but the script is a crayon job that gives only the most basic information on an astounding and unfortunately endangered species.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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