Although this film stars Guy Pearce as hunter and tomb robber Aiden McRory, the real stars of Jean-Jaques Annaud’s environmentally concerned story are two tiger cubs. As with his wonderful 1989 The Bear (reviewed in the Dec. 1990 VP), the director use live animals, enhanced at times by cgi, apparently patiently trained to perform as if they had rehearsed the story of their birth, childish explorations, capture and separation, and, finally, when fully grown, their less than auspicious reunion in a caged arena where they are expected to tear each other to pieces. This is no fable, so there is no cutesy dialogue or wry comment on human foibles from an animal perspective. By the use of close-ups of the animals’ faces—both the children and adults in the theater where I saw the film were loud in their delightful appreciation—and adroit editing the director seemed to reveal the little guys’ thought processes.
Kumal and Sangha live a seemingly idyllic life with their parents amidst jungle-overgrown ancient ruins in Indo China during the 1920s. Then enters man, whereupon one parent is killed and the cub carted off and then passed on to young Raoul, whose father is a district administrator for the French government. The other cub, after the remaining parent is killed, winds up in a circus where he is cruelly trained to jump through a hoop of fire. When the two meet up later and escape into the wilds, Aiden is now reluctant to heed the call of the fearful villagers to hunt them down, he having turned more to preserving nature than destroying it. His conversation with Raoul about the sad necessity to hunt down the animals–because they had never learned to hunt wild animals and thus would pose a danger to the villagers–is a tender, memorable moment.
Of course, the film greatly romanticizes nature, even if it does show respect to the cubs. We are not shown nature “red in tooth and claw,” the tiger family seeming to be on a vegetarian diet early in the film. This is a film that ignores the questions raised by poet William Blake in his “Tiger, tiger, burning bright/In the forests of the night.” But if this is something we could overlook in The Lion King and still find great enjoyment and a few lessons along the way, then surely we can do it here also. Family entertainment, suitable for all ages, doesn’t get much better than this marvelously photographed film.