Living in a motel room with his widowed and grieving father (Sam Trammell), ten-year-old Rob Horton (Christian Convery) spends his time daydreaming about his mother and carving beautiful wood sculptures. he too is busy scratching his legs, which are covered in a red rash that gets him sent home from school. With time to explore the nearby woods, Rob makes an unexpected discovery: a caged tiger living on land owned by Beauchamp (Dennis Quaid), his father’s obnoxious employer.
Rob brings his friend Sistine (Madalen Mills) to see the tiger, and the two boys begin hatching plans to free the mighty animal. this is a worrying plot development because the kids never consider the danger to the community of having an alpha predator prowling the nearby woods. while the appreciation of animal welfare is commendable, the script never sees the children consult with any adults who can help them find appropriate organizations to ensure the welfare of the tiger while protecting the city. your choice is strictly binary: keep the big cat in a cage or let it run free.
The plot then takes a turn that will worry parents even more, as the villain appears to be operating from the playbook of a child predator. Beauchamp approaches Rob and tells him not to tell his father about him. (red flag #1. children should never keep secrets from adults). then he insists that rob get in his car and go to the woods with him because he is the boss and rob must do what he says. (red flag #2. children should never feel pressured to get into an adult’s vehicle). He takes Rob to the tiger’s cage and offers to pay him to feed the animal. (red flag #3. no child should feel compelled to do something dangerous at the behest of an adult). Watching Beauchamp harass and manipulate Rob filled me with white-hot rage. Parents who have gone to great lengths to protect their children from the street will also be horrified when Rob gets into Beauchamp’s car. This isn’t a movie most parents will want their kids to watch for this one scene alone, but if your kids watch it elsewhere, it can become a catalyst for discussions about personal safety.
If the exploitation of children in the story isn’t bad enough, the script is also packed with unbearably bad pop psychology. The overall motif of the film is to break free from cages: Steal from pain, Sistine from rage, Sam from despair, and the tiger’s plight is supposedly emblematic of the human need to get out of the cages we build to protect ourselves. learning to be honest with our emotions and open to others are valuable emotional skills, but comparing human emotion to releasing a large predator near a population center is a bridge too far for me. Also compounded is the motel maid’s (Queen Latifah) insistence that Rob’s legs will heal as soon as he faces his feelings: she claims his pain is trapped in his legs and will only be released when he acknowledges his loss. this story arc legitimizes the charlatans’ pseudo-medicine in the minds of child viewers and is unhelpful.
The film’s acting is also mediocre. young christian convery is suitably childish and, in the hands of a more skillful director, would have had a better performance. Madame Mills is convincingly hurt, angry, and arrogant, but then again, a more nuanced performance would make the movie better. As for Dennis Quaid, there’s no excuse for his over-the-top, landscape-chewing performance. queen latifah is, as always, realistic and warm, but nothing can save some of her dialogue.
Overall, Rise of the Tiger is a huge disappointment. It’s based on a novel by Kate Dicamillo, and his other books have been adapted into some great family movies. With its terrible message, lackluster acting, and poor script, this movie isn’t going to make it up that favorite list.