Cats have been a friend to man throughout antiquity, beginning with the Egyptian society. Even tame cats, however, evidence signs of their wild ancestry, often hunting small prey. Wild cats range from lions, which often symbolize power, to swift leopards and cougars; the most unusual, however, is the South American jaguar, or jungle cat. The jaguar is quintessential in its grace, perseverance, beauty and strength. Making “a career of assassination,” the jaguar lives in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest, home to oversized vegetation, over 300,000 species of plants, countless waterfalls and exotic fauna. Animals include monkeys, giant lizards, colorful birds such as toucans, parrots and macaws, a species of crocodile called the jacare, flamingos and huge, muscular snakes. Jaguars are nomadic loners who fight any other cat who dares to invade their marked-out territory. Although one cat fight appears to be vicious, it is soon revealed to be a courtship ritual between a spotted female and an ebony male.
One hundred days later, the pair has two cubs, one resembling the mother and the other, the father. The mother patiently teaches the cubs to swim, a proclivity unusual for cats, and to hunt. Nearby, the native otter playfully bothers the capybara, a large, slow-moving rodent, and an air-burping fish called the pirarucu. When the male jaguar sees the pirarucu, he pursues it with lethal grace, overcoming it despite the fish’s larger size. Soon, the cubs hunt on their own, chasing parakeets and baby monkeys. Upon finding a tapir, a fatty, vegetarian relative of the rhinoceros, the cats track it but are soon distracted by a peccary, or wild pig. Although the pig is vicious, the two adult jaguars work in tandem to defeat it. In the trees, the lesser anteater, or tamadua, eats ants and termites by the hundreds. Its prehensile tail allows it to remain aloft, out of reach of the cats. When two tamaduas meet, they face off in upright positions of aggression. On the ground, the giant anteater scoops ants with a long, sticky tail. The jaguar is its only enemy, and in one fight, the anteater manages to escape, then hides in the soil, covered by its bushy tail. Meanwhile, the mother cat trains the youngsters how to deal with their main foe, the crocodile. The cubs watch their mother tease and fight the deadly reptile, pitting her cleverness against its brute strength. With the help of the male jaguar, the cats are able to subdue and kill the crocodile by biting the back of its neck and drowning it.
Vegetarian monkeys abound in the jungle, subsisting off the plentiful food in the treetops. They are expert acrobats and inveterate jokesters, teasing the nearby anacondas and baby toucans, who cannot yet fly. Marmosets and tamarinds are cousins of the monkey, and come in many different varieties. When one bothers an anaconda, it is tolerated briefly, then killed. High above these animals lives the sloth, an extremely slow-moving mammal that subsists on one species of tree leaf. When one falls to the ground, its laborious movement makes it an easy target for predators, but once in the tree, it can move to the outer reaches of lightweight branches to escape heavier enemies. One sloth family is beset by monkeys, which shake its branches until one of the sloths falls in the water, while another is chased by a jaguar, but finally eludes her grasp. In order to protect her children, the jaguar turns her attention to an anaconda, batting at it so it will turn and allow her access to its neck. Soon her mate arrives to help, and together they battle the heavy snake. After killing it, they ignore the dead body. As tropical rains deluge the jungle, the cats return to their everyday pursuits.
From 1948 to 1960, Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures series offered movie goers a glimpse at exotic locales and the animals that inhabit them. The award winning series is heralded as the creation of the nature documentary format. The seventh and final feature length True-Life Adventure film tells the story of jaguars in Brazil. A team of three photographers spent over two years in Brazil to amass all of the footage used in the film. Because of the humidity and heat in South America, some of the film was ruined by the time it was sent to the studio.
Like most of the True-Life Adventures films before it, Jungle Cat opens with a paintbrush, but instead of painting a globe it paints a statue of an ancient Egyptian cat. The narrative segues from domesticated cats to their wild cousins that hunt to survive. After introducing its audience to the unique jungles of Brazil, Jungle Cat sets its focus on a family of jaguars and their struggles to serivive. Many other animals are featured throughout the film including monkeys, birds, crocodiles, otters, sloths and snakes.
Jungle Cat was released on August 10th, 1960. Like the other True-Life Adventure films, critics praised it and audiences worldwide made it a financial success. With these facts, it is hard to understand why it was the end of this prestigious series. According to Roy E. Disney, Walt ended the series because he felt that television was a better medium for this type of subject matter. The Wonderful World of Color (later The Wonderful World of Disney) carried on the medium of nature documentaries and today there is a cable channel that is solely devoted to this genre.
As a film, Jungle Cat proves humorous and enjoyable fifty years after its release. While the film offers some intense moments, such as a jaguar almost getting killed by a boa constrictor, there is enough lighthearted fare to appease any viewer. My favorite scenes involve the adorable Brazilian monkeys. It's hard not to laugh when they team up on a sloth that invades their favorite tree, causing them to shake it out.
Jungle Cat was released on DVD in 2006 as part of the Walt Disney Legacy Collection. It can be found on the third volume of the True-Life Adventures series where it has been fully restored. The DVD is now out of print and copies are hard to find.