There are several uniquely impressive elements to the adventure drama “Mia and the White Lion,” but they’re undermined by a choppy, at times contrived and implausible script by Prune de Maistre (wife of director Gilles de Maistre) and William Davies.
Shot in South Africa over the course of three years (to build an authentic bond between the actual lion and the film’s young star), the film finds headstrong, 11-year-old Mia (Daniah de Villiers) befriending Charlie, a cuddly baby cub new to the lion-breeding farm run by Mia’s parents (Langley Kirkwood and Mélanie Laurent).
But as Mia becomes more attached to the fast-growing animal, Mom and Dad fear for Mia’s life and, by the time Charlie turns 3, decide they must sell him to protect Mia, now 14, and her anxious older brother (Ryan Mac Lennan).
Mia rebels, steals off with Charlie and embarks on an absurdly dangerous and unnerving journey to a sanctuary where he can live freely and safely.
Charlie is played from 4 months on by a lion named Thor, amazingly handled here by “Lion Whisperer” Kevin Richardson; the gorgeous animal’s “performance” is remarkable — and without CGI effects. Alas, the human actors are less memorable, with Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”) especially awkward in a skimpily drawn role.
In addition, for a “family” film, there’s some deeply dubious parenting on display.
‘Mia and the White Lion’
Rated: PG, for thematic elements, peril and some language
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: Starts April 12 In general release