The Wolf and the Lion

Back in elementary school, they used to show us movies on special days. Often, the movies were about animals – some made by Disney, others not. What they all had in common was that they seemed to be based entirely around what an animal could be trained to do. The plots existed solely because there had to be some semblance of storytelling, but they certainly weren't the primary focus. The Wolf and the Lion reminded me very much of those movies. It's a hopelessly old-fashioned picture designed to show off two very beautiful animals. Everything else is just dull filler.

Alma (Molly Kunz) is a pianist at a music academy, hoping to get a job with a philharmonic orchestra. When her grandfather dies, she ventures to his private island to take care of business for a few days. A white wolf whom he had befriended hangs around the house, as if she too is mourning his passing. During a severe storm, an airplane crashes on the island. Alma stumbles across the still-fiery wreckage the next morning. You'd think that she might call for help, or at least tell her nearby godfather Joe (Graham Greene), yet she stares at it like this is an everyday occurrence.

Surviving that crash is a tiger cub. Alma brings it home, where the white wolf cares for it, along with its own cub. Then a scientist named Eli (played by Charlie Carrack in an astonishingly unconvincing performance) and his tracker tranquilize and take the wolf, so it's up to her to care for the growing cubs. (The movie thankfully sidesteps the fact that the animals are not housebroken.) Later, the lion is captured by game wardens and delivered to the circus where it was originally supposed to go. Alma and the wolf cub have to find a way to reunite everyone amid these deeply contrived circumstances.

The Wolf and the Lion wants to be a cute and cuddly animal movie. Oddly, it also wants to be an anti-circus screed. Upon learning that the lion is in the hands of a visibly unscrupulous owner, Alma digs into her grandfather's filing cabinet, where she finds a file marked “CIRCUS” that is filled with newspaper articles about terrible things that have happened to animals forced to perform under a big top. (Thank goodness he had that file!) Even on this level, the film chickens out. In the climax, the circus owner points a high-powered hunting rifle at Alma and the scientist. Cops show up a minute later and they neglect to report this. The movie lets its own villain off the hook.

I can't remember the last time a movie went to such great lengths for such little result. Every scene is designed to create some huge drama. Nothing ever comes of it, though. Director Gilles de Maistre (Mia and the White Lion) gives us lots of shots of the animals walking around Alma or sitting patiently by her side after she falls and hits her head on a rock, knocking her unconscious for hours. It's almost like he thinks keeping the creatures on camera will be enough to hold the audience's attention, or at least distract them from the fact that the dramatic elements are completely inert.

For most of its running time, The Wolf and the Lion is just limp. The last half-hour, however, unfolds a series of idiotic plot developments that are almost comical in their absurdity. What's the point? If the filmmakers wanted to show kids two animals, they could have made a documentary. Or, they could have gone the Homeward Bound route, hiring actors to provide their interior voices for an adventure that wouldn't need a lot of one-dimensional humans hanging around. What they've done instead is to pad their animal footage with plot machinations that make no sense, lead nowhere significant, and will ultimately test the patience of children in the audience.

out of four

The Wolf and the Lion is rated PG for thematic elements, language and some peril. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.