The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/events/film/2022-02-04/the-wolf-and-the-lion/

The Wolf and the Lion

Rated PG, 100 min. Directed by Gilles de Maistre. Starring Molly Kunz, Graham Greene, Charlie Carrick, Derek Johns, Rhys Slack.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 4, 2022

The recent explosion of streaming platforms that rely on archive deep dives to fill their libraries has meant a lot of kids being introduced to “the kind of films they just don’t make anymore.” Take, for example, the animal adventure flick, those weird mixes of drama and environmentalism that often felt like live-action cartoons but used real-life animals. The pandemic has probably led to untold hordes of children stumbling by accident across The Incredible Journey or some similar slice of four-legged fantasy. The Wolf and the Lion follows that same trail, but won’t leave you as queasy as some of those older, less animal-friendly stories.

Inspired by their experiences filming the massively successful Mia and the White Lion, director Gilles de Maistre and writer Prune de Maistre modernize the format with the story of three animals that find themselves forming an unlikely family. There’s Mozart, a wolf cub accidentally separated from his mother; Dreamer, a lion cub who survives a plane crash and finds himself a long way from home; and Alma (Kunz), a talented young musician who takes in these two orphans. The trio engages in a series of adventures – some cute, some funny, some with enough peril to make smaller kids turn to their parents and ask if the kitty and doggy will be OK – with varying degrees of support from her substitute grandpa, Joe (Greene), and comic-relief research biologist Eli (Carrick).

Of course, the universal problem with those old animal adventure films was the underlying concern that, no matter how much they were intended to celebrate wildlife, they often depended on animal exploitation (anyone remember the infamous White Wilderness, in which lemmings were thrown to their deaths?). Here, the producers have pledged that the filmmaking process was done around the animals as much as possible, filming on remote Sacacomie Island (eagle-eyed parents may, as their kids ooh and aah over the critters, recognize Alma’s house from Secret Window) to create a safe filming environment. That’s important for a film that takes potshots at circuses that use wild animals, and de Maistre pulls off a very neat trick by having the lion subjected to a performance that is degrading without being actually exploitative. It’s actually a neat balancing act and indicates how incredibly committed the team was to bringing back those films that made you appreciate wild animals without anthropomorphizing them. At the same time, this is a film that only exists because the filmmakers decided to bond two animals that would normally have nothing to do with each other.

The Wolf and the Lion is deeply sweet, utterly predictable, and may well send a few unintentionally mixed messages about human relationships with large predators. Like its predecessors, it gets caught up in good intentions, and it’s arguably up to you whether you think your money is better spent on tickets to a film that might open your kids’ eyes a bit, or just donating directly to a reputable animal sanctuary.

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