Reviewed by: Kotleta

A heart-warming story of a young boy's quest to return his cheetah cub buddy to the wild? I know what you're thinking because I thought it too - Christ on a bike, it's Free Willy with fur! Oh dear.

Never fear. The star might have smaller teeth, but this family film has a lot more bite.

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Animal movies fall into one of two camps, the ones with talking beasties, which are basically humans only cuter, and the ones where animals don't display deep-seated neuroses, but go about their natural business, doing things like... er... eating. And sleeping. And killing things. Ignore the misleadingly cheesy posters. This is in the latter category.

Ten-year-old Xan (Alex Michaletos) lives on a farm in South Africa with his parents. On a trip up north they find an orphaned cheetah cub and, since it's so little and helpless, decide to hand rear it at home. Instead of Barry, or Spot, or Mr Fluff, they opt for the observational approach and call it Duma, which is the Swahili word for cheetah. This restraint from easy sentiment sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Kitten and boy are soon best mates, but this idyllic life can't last forever. Duma is almost fully-grown and if he isn't returned to his homeland soon, it will be too late for him to connect with his instincts and make friends with his own kind. They plan a road trip to take him north, but Xan's dad (Campbell Scott) falls seriously ill and Duma seems destined for a wildlife reserve instead of going home to the wilds where he can live free and kill his own dinner. So Xan takes his dad's motorbike with Duma riding shotgun in the sidecar and they head off into the wide yellow yonder.

Pitched as Walkabout crossed with Motorcycle Diaries crossed with Free Willy, this is a film about loss and love and trying not to get bitten by poisonous spiders, or eaten by crocodiles. The cinematography is beautiful and it's shot like a nature documentary rather than a feature length episode of Gentle Ben.

In general, I disapprove of child actors, as their studied precocity and over-animated faces give me scowl lines. Perhaps, because it's set in South Africa, starring a South African child, who hasn't been to stage school, at no point during the 100 minutes did I secretly hope that Duma would do what comes naturally and rip his buddy's throat out.

Surprisingly - fun for all the family.

Reviewed on: 27 May 2005
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Duma packshot
Road movie on a motorbike in South Africa with 10-year-old Xan and his cheetah cub buddy.
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Director: Carroll Ballard

Writer: Karen Janszen, Mark St German, based on How It Was With Dooms by Carol Cawthra Hopcraft and Xan Hopcraft

Starring: Alex Michaletos, Campbell Scott, Mary Makhatho, Nthabiseng Kenoshi, Hope Davis, Jennifer Steyn

Year: 2005

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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