Guy Pearce stares into the eye of the tiger not once but twice in this polished but cloying tale of two tiger cubs separated in the jungle and then reunited as full-grown adults. Pearce plays a pith-helmeted British adventurer in early 20th century Cambodia who befriends one of the cubs, Koumal, and inadvertently packs him off to the circus. Meanwhile, the son of the local French governor adopts his brother Sangha. Will the two brothers survive their captivity? And will they ever be reunited?
French director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy At The Gates) delivers all the "ohs" and "ahs" of a Disney family picture in this reworking of The Incredible Journey and Annaud's previous slice of animal magic, The Bear. The tiger cubs don't speak, but they're anthropomorphised enough to be real characters: Koumal has his spirit crushed by the brutality of the circus, while Sangha is turned into a ferocious fighter before being forced into the ring to battle his own brother.
The technical expertise of getting these tigers to 'act' (particularly without eating anyone) is pretty impressive. Annaud makes the most of framing these magnificent beasts against the lush background of Far Eastern jungles, before moving them into civilisation and pitting them against each other in a gladiatorial tiger fight.
"CONTRIVED AIR OF A DISNEY OUTING"
While Pearce stiffens his upper lip nicely as the ruggedly plummy white man raiding the ruins of Buddhist temples in search of statues, even he struggles to counterbalance the heavy-handed moralising of the script (or the scene in which he's forced to beg the tigers for forgiveness for his imperialist ways). Teaching us that colonialism is bad, environmentalism is good, and that tigers are noble beasts, Annaud never really escapes the contrived air of a Disney outing. Animal-loving kids will think it's lovely, but it's only a mildly diverting time-waster for the rest of us.