No segue. Already saw the movie, so let’s get started.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Daniah De Villiers (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Mélanie Laurent (OPERATION FINALE ), Langley Kirkwood (DREDD ), Ryan Mac Lennan (feature film debut; congrats, young man), and Brandon Auret (SAMSON ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Gilles de Maistre, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Co-writing the screenplay are Prune de Maistre (feature film debut; congrats) and William Davies (JOHNNY ENGLISH , 2 , and 3 , and TRAIN/DRAGON ). Composing the score is Armand Amar, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. The cinematographer is Brendan Barnes, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Finally, the editor is Julien Rey, known for VALERIAN (2017), TRANSPORTER REFUELED (2015), and the upcoming ANNA (2019).
This is my honest opinion of: MIA AND THE WHITE LION
Set in South Africa. Mia Owen (Daniah De Villiers) has recently moved from London with her family, father John (Langley Kirkwood), french mother Alice (Mélanie Laurent), and older brother Mick (Ryan Mac Lennan) to tend their Lion breeding shelter to sell lions to zoos and wherever they’re needed. Soon, Mia and her family get a new white lion cub named Charlie and quickly becomes a part of the family, and for years, the two become a close pair. But as Charlie gets older, the more of his wild animalistic tendencies take over, making him increasingly dangerous, and John has to find a new home for Charlie.
The truth is, I’m thirty years old. I’ve seen movies like this. Hell, I’ve grown up with them myself. FREE WILLY (1993) is a particular childhood favorite of mine, but obviously this sort of story has been told a million times before, so it’s probably a safe bet to assume that I’m not the intended demographic. Still, I think it’s cute enough and has its fair share of merit.
The only thing that I dislike about the movie is the first act. It’s poorly paced, edited, and not very well-written. All that’s shown is Mia being a brat, being unhappy that she’s moved to a new place, shouting about how much she hates her father and complains about her family in general, she gets into fights in school that we never see, it’s all that nonsense that never really goes anywhere or ties into her character half as well as the movie thinks. Hell, the poor writing is so bad that I wasn’t even really sure if Alice was her mother or step-mother. And even when Charlie the cub comes around in the story, she clearly thinks it’s cute, but puts on this act like she doesn’t care about it. But then the next scene is about her taking a liking to the cub. But then the next scene, she’s complaining about it some more. The writing for Mia is so wishy washy that it’s almost a jarring experience to sit through and I’d swear to God that this was a first draft from a kid who never wrote a script before. There is zero polish to the first act.
Some smaller issues include how Mia’s childhood friend Daniel (actor not credited), sort of just leaves the movie randomly despite having a healthy amount of scenes. Also, some of the accents were bothering me. I feel like this family is supposed to be English, minus Alice who’s French. It’s clear that both Mia and Mick are English, but I feel like Kirkwood’s accent bounces from English to Australian… which seems strange because the man is actually English, though he did move to South Africa when he was young, so maybe he’s blending the accents accidentally, or maybe I just can’t tell my accents apart. There’s a stretch of time where it feels like Mia and Charlie have an almost unhealthy dependency on each other as Mia runs away from this camp thing that she went to and hitchhiked home just to bottle-feed Charlie. Jeez, after that, I would have just gotten rid of the lion low-key simply for the unpredictable and unacceptable behavior. There’s even a scene where Mia is at a pretty advanced age and she’s talking to Charlie like a five year old does expecting a response. And there are some groan-worthy lines like, “She’s magic, like a fairy.” Yeah, Mick has a line like that and it’s painful. Took me back to last year’s WRINKLE IN TIME and that Charles Wallace acting. Blech.
Thankfully, and confusingly, when the story evens out after the act one and maintains a level of consistency in quality.
I’ve always enjoyed movies like this, as it’s gotta be the coolest experience ever to be able to be around these wild animals, like orca killer whales, or in this case, lions. In this case, one could argue that lions are far more dangerous as orcas have no recorded human deaths on their hands. Lions on the other hand, yeah, of course they do. The movie constantly reminds us that none of these animals that we’re seeing on screen are in any way domesticated. They’re wild animals and will have wild animal tendencies, like scratching or biting. This movie never shies away from that reality, but shows that the relationship between Mia and Charlie is built around trust and I find it quite endearing.
I also respect this movie for not being afraid to tackle some pretty dark subject matter. In little details here and there, we learn that John used to be involved with some shady things with Dirk and promised Alice that he’d clean up his act and walk the straight and narrow path. We’re also told throughout the story that their home is a lion breeding place and they sell their lions to zoos and the like. However, we eventually learn that John does sell lions to poachers for hunting and killing for either themselves or for tourists. What’s screwed up is that it’s completely legal in South Africa. This triggers Mia, for good reason, to set Charlie free in an area in the wild where he’ll be protected and even has a scene where she shoots her father in the leg with a tranquilizer dart. I really loved that moment of sticking to her convictions, but not being afraid to remind herself that she’s just a teenager and has a breaking down moment of realizing how over her head she is. Plus, her long journey through the wilderness is so well done, making her totally battered, dehydrated, weak, and constantly tired. It’s pretty brutal and intense for a kids movie.
Overall, this movie is pretty harmless and certainly has its heart in the right place, trying to raise awareness for the lion population and laying down the figures for what’s legal in South Africa and that this movie stands against it. It has it’s great character moments, certainly De Villiers carries this film extraordinarily well and clearly has talent. The only real problem is the first act and tons of other little problems with the movie that prevent it from being very good, but I sure don’t regret seeing it. As a recommendation, I’d say kids will definitely like it and adults will get enough out of it to be engaged, so it’s worth seeing. Maybe as a matinee, discount day, or a very strong recommendation as a rental.
My honest rating for MIA AND THE WHITE LION: 4/5
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