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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #88
April 29, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Duma + Wildlife Rescue Station

Kids and animals frolic side by side in the movies, though in real life we all know that wildness can't be tamed. One director, Carroll Ballard, has made a career out of exploring the real story between children and creatures -- films like Black Beauty, Never Cry Wolf and Fly Away Home have become classics because they don't preach or pretend when it comes to domesticity and wildness. Ballard's latest masterpiece, Duma, is the story of a young boy who raises a cheetah cub to maturity and, after his father's death, travels across the Kalahari desert to release the grown animal back to the wild. In Ballard's masterful hands, the boy's passion to fullfill his father's wish (that the cheetah return to the bush) becomes a metaphor for childhood's end. With spectacular cinematography, a sense of what it's like to live in the desert and memorable scenes of true wildness, Duma blurs the distinction between human and beast for a brief interlude. When Duma returns to the wilderness, our children wept as though they'd lost their best friend.

Feeling a connection to wild animals is so powerful that some people decide to raise one in their home. We visited our local Wildlife Rescue Station, where they rescue and rehabilitate wild creatures at the sad end of such domestication attempts. We toured the small, working facility with an enthusiastic volunteer who knew every inhabitant's history. It turns out that cute baby alligators outgrow bathtubs and pet monkeys will eventually bite. But every creature receives state-of-the-art treatment at the Eco Station (a bobcat is re-clawed, a lizard gets his lip re-attached). The lesson that you can't tame a wild creature was most curiously displayed after we chatted with several peculiar macaws who had outlived their beloved owners. Our ultra-domesticated children quickly got the message - don't try this at home!

Film Title: Duma
Directed By: Carroll Ballard
2004, Rated PG, 100 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why It's Worth It: Duma is a superb family film that we recommend for children over seven. Be warned that this is not a typical Hollywood animal film. Your children will be taken into the story on a visceral level because of realistic acting and gorgeous photography. Our kids wept at the film's ending. (Don't worry, nothing bad happens to Duma.)
  • Further Viewing: Director Carroll Ballard's films (Fly Away Home, Black Stallion) tell a story with images, not dialogue. Kids Off The Couch highly recommends your kids see every one of his films.
  • Red Flags: The story is tense - Xan, the boy, takes Duma into the Kalahari Desert without having a clue how to survive there. They're "rescued" by an unreliable, and at times ominous, character called Rip with whom they cross the deadly desert. Rip is bitten by tse-tse flies in a frightening sequence, but all ends well.
  • COOL FACT: Duma is the Swahili word for cheetah.

Our Tips for Talking with your kids about this Film:

  • Animal Savvy: One of the wonderful things about Duma is that it was made without special effects. That's a real live cheetah (okay, six were used in filming). How'd they manage? The filmmakers found a real boy who grew up with cheetahs ... and who can act! Ask the kids how a wild animal would do in their household?
  • Hollywood Savvy: The studio didn't release Duma widely, because they were afraid it might not make money. Filmmakers and critics objected, and even while another animal film, March of the Penguins, was cleaning up at the box office, Duma only received a limited release.


Visit a Wildlife Rescue

Google Search Term: Wildlife Rescue and the name of your city

Time Allotment: 2 hours
Age Recommendation: 5 and up

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • Why It's Worth It:  Some wildlife rescues are institutionalize (mostly in larger cities) and have normal hours of operation and a team of volunteers who love to give tours of the facilities. In our city, the rescue station saves animals both wild (lizards and snakes and bobcats) and exotic animals (macaws), and is frequented by students on field trips and resourceful parents.
  • Before You Go: Call ahead to see if the facility needs specific supplies. Kids feel great when they can walk in with something to help the animals.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:
  • Anywhere: Click here to find your local wild-animal preserve.
  • Boston: If you live in the Boston area, take a break from busy city life and head over to Mass Audubon to bask in scenic acres of sprawling nature.  Your visit will contribute to the preservation of over 150 unique endangered species that have made Audubon their home.
  • Chicago:  Check out Critter Camp and see lots of cuddly, exotic creatures! This shelter, started by a single mother with a love for animals, is now home to over 250 abandoned and unusual pets.
  • Houston: Our kids just loved Aladdin's sidekick Abu, and of course Curious George made our children want their very own primate pal to monkey around with, so why not swing by Primarily Primates and let your very own curious kid learn about how they can help make a difference in the lives of one of these animals.
  • Austin: The Austin Zoo is more than just a place to ogle exotic creatures, it is a sanctuary and refuge for hundreds of displaced and rescued wild animals. Visit the Austin Zoo, just outside of the city, and be part of a community effort to preserve future generations or rare species of rhinoceros, birds, and reptiles, and bond with cuddly mammals at the petting zoo.
  • New York:  Living in New York, you may feel you are missing out on your nature fix.  Break away from the concrete jungle, and transport yourself to Call of The Wild Sanctuary, a lush, green paradise that is home to large, exotic cats.  You will feel as though you have walked into a scene of Disney's Lion King.          

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

Want to vist Africa in other films? Click here to be connected to the Kids Off the Couch store at

Want to read other books about wild animals? Click here to be connected to the Kids Off the Couch store at