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CHRISTIAN LIFE IN LONDON | NOVEMBER 2022 EDITION
Reel Review - THE WOLF AND THE LION
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NOVEMBER PRAYER PROMPT
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Published February 2022



THE WOLF AND THE LION

Rating: PG

Genre: Drama

Writers: Gilles de Maistre (original idea) and Prune de Maistre (original idea)

Directed By: Gilles de Maistre

Release Date: In Theaters – February 4, 2022

Runtime: 112 Minutes

Cast: Molly Kunz as Alma; Graham Greene as Joe; Charlie Carrick as Eli; Derek Johns as Charles; Rhys Slack as Rapha; Evan Buliung as Allan


Review Courtesy: PluggedIn

Review By: Paul Asay



SUMMARY

Wolves and lions don’t get along.

It’s not that they necessarily hate each other. The two predators just don’t have much opportunity to hang out. Arctic wolves spend their days in the Arctic (as you might expect). Lions live mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, about 4,000 miles away from the Arctic Circle. Unless wolves or lions have some sort of frequent flyer program humankind doesn’t know about, you’re about as likely to see a wolf and lion together as you are to see a senior-citizen knitting club play bingo with a biker gang.

Why, a lion would positively have to fall out of the sky for something like that to—

Oh, hey, is that a lion falling from the sky?

Certainly, the lion’s sudden, gravity-aided arrival was unexpected—even by Alma, who’s reasonably used to seeing strange animals on her own private island. Her grandpa—the island’s original owner—was what you might call a free spirit. He was the sort of fellow who might paint flowers and butterflies on a perfectly good grand piano or be on friendly terms with most of the wolves there—particularly a white she-wolf that hung around the house.

But the old man died a bit ago, and grieving granddaughter Alma inherited the island—trees, house, piano and all. When she comes to pay her respects, she decides to stay in Grandpa’s house, but just for a bit: She has a big piano audition to stress about back in New York. When her godfather, Joe, offers to spend the night with her (to make sure she’s OK), she declines.

“Are you kidding?” she says. “Nothing’s going to happen to me here.”

That very night, a storm blows in, and a plane crashes on the island. The pilot was seriously injured, but its cargo was just fine: a little lion cub that had been on its way to join the circus. The plane smashed into a tree, apparently, and one strong enough to hold the smoldering wreckage. The cub tumbled out—first into a bird’s nest and then into the arms of a very surprised Alma.

But the pianist’s daily allotment of surprises wasn’t exhausted just yet. When she comes home—the cub still wrapped firmly in her arms—she discovers the white she-wolf has decided to give birth right in her grandfather’s house.

What are the odds, right? Maybe old Aunt Mabel better set aside her stitchery, slap on her old biker leathers and pull out a few bingo balls.

POSITIVE ELEMENTS

Most of the praise here goes to the movie’s titular animals, who—as you might expect—get along just fine. In fact, the film tells us they love each other like “brothers,” and we see plenty of footage of them scampering about and not killing or eating each other.

When one is captured by dastardly humans, the other goes off on a rescue mission. When one gets knocked unconscious, the other stands guard. And when Alma herself suffers a plot-changing injury, both lion (whom Alma names Dreamer) and wolf (whom Alma names Mozart) make sure she’s OK through a long, cold night. Later, folks at the hospital say that Alma would’ve surely died had her critter friends not kept her warm and safe.

Alma’s own legacy in this story is a little more conflicted, as even the movie tells us. Certainly, wildlife experts would tell us that you shouldn’t really turn two potentially man-eating creatures into household pets. But she did what she thought was the right thing to do. In the movie’s ethos, that makes her sympathetic enough. And at least she didn’t turn either of her trusting island-mates into tiny rugs.

SPIRITUAL ELEMENTS

Alma goes to a Catholic school (St. Mary’s) of some sort in New York. (It looks like it’s a high school, given the school uniforms. Her grandfather calls her (in a recorded message to her) his “blue fairy.” Joe, the godfather, makes a prayer gesture.

We’re told that Alma’s grandfather wanted a green funeral and hoped that he’d “come back as a tree.” It could be a joking reference to reincarnation, or it could be that Grandfather just hoped that his remains would be soaked up by the forest around him.

SEXUAL CONTENT

Joe apparently had a “fling” with a female forest ranger, which led to her becoming pregnant. He’s been avoiding talking with her ever since—which sounds pretty scuzzy, but the film itself treats his irresponsible behavior as a joke.

VIOLENT CONTENT

Dreamer’s mother is shot and killed, and the suddenly orphaned cub is whisked away to the circus. While the death takes place off camera, we do hear the gun shots. Later, law enforcement fire weapons at a dangerous animal.

We see a circus owner and “lion tamer” in action, using a cracking whip in his training. Again, we don’t see the whip’s blows land, but we do see the owner’s boy wince as the whip snaps loudly off-camera. Alma’s grandfather keeps a file on the alleged abuse that circuses inflict on their big cats.

Alma trips on a rock and smashes her head against another rock, rendering her unconscious for a night (and sending her to the hospital, eventually). A plane crashes, which injures the pilot (we’re told). An animal is shot with a tranquilizer gun. A lion and a wolf do some serious property damage. Someone threatens someone else.

CRUDE OR PROFANE LANGUAGE

Three or four s-words—a pretty high profanity count for a PG-rated movie—and a few other curses, including “h—,” “d–n” and “g-dd–n.” At one point, Joe utters a profane phrase that I’d never heard before (and that’s saying something): “Holy d–ns and whistling Jesus!” he says.

DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT

A circus owner uses drugs to mellow out the big lion he’s trying to train. A tranquilizer dart knocks out a wolf, and another drug is given in hopes of reviving him.

OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS

You’d think with wild animals living in someone’s house, eating books and tearing up furniture cushions, you’d also have some potential urinary and defecatory issues to navigate here—particularly when Alma leaves them alone for a long weekend. But the movie never goes there (as it were) and we can either assume that The Wolf and the Lion simply focused on the home’s cleaner areas or the animals themselves must’ve held their own calls of nature for a considerable amount of time.

Unfortunately, we do have some elements to navigate here, regardless.

Alma initially lies to her godfather, Joe, about the animals—telling him she got rid of both the wolf and the lion (when she’s keeping both on her island). Oh, and keeping the lion is against all sorts of laws, too.

A circus owner/lion trainer illegally removes, and tries to get his son to dispose of, a wolf-tracking collar to keep scientists from finding the animal. The son lies to his dad and temporarily runs away with a couple of people he just met, telling them, “I don’t care about [my father] right now.” Alma treats a scientist, Eli, quite shabbily (and he sometimes returns the favor).

But the biggest issue may really go to the heart of the film itself: how wild animals should be treated. We’ll deal with that more in the conclusion, but for now, be aware that the movie is pushing an agenda. And like all agendas, that can be either a positive or negative one depending on where you land.

CONCLUSION

At one point, Alma confronts a scientist who runs a wolf sanctuary—mistaking him for someone who means her precious wolf, Mozart, harm.

“You dominate them—then you control them—then you exploit them!” she thunders, ignoring (for the moment) her own decision to keep both predators as quasi-pets.

The Wolf and the Lion offers its own inherently mixed messages on its starring beasts. While the film insists that all animals have a “right to freedom,” the lion cubs and wolf pups that French director Gilles de Maistre used for the film were, by the movie’s own definition, both controlled and exploited themselves. Without this movie, the animals would’ve never met. Their upbringing and relationship was anything but natural. And while the goal was to send both sets of animals to their own respective wolf/lion sanctuaries after filming, the animals grew so attached to each other that the makers decided it would be cruel to separate them: Here, life imitates art in ways both sweet and starkly off-message.

Honestly, Netflix’s Tiger King might’ve dealt with these particular issues with a touch more nuance. And while I think, in fairness, the film wanted to tackle some of these ethical complexities, it never convincingly does so. Even though Alma herself comes to question her decision to keep the animals together on her island, the film would much rather us focus on how wonderful the animals are and how horrible the circus is—a simpler message for the young animal lovers the movie is trying to attract.

But alas for those young animal lovers, the film bares some other content claws as well. It’s curious that a movie clearly designed for kids should contain so many s-words. And a gag about a guy trying to escape responsibility for an unexpected pregnancy … well, that just feels weird and wrong.

I was hoping for better from this PG movie. As a kid, I loved those family-friendly nature romps, where a child befriends an orphaned bear, or a backwoods family makes peace with a pack of wolves. Such movies can help young viewers fall in love with God’s creation, and they can encourage kids to be good stewards of that creation.

This film could potentially do that, as well, I suppose. The animals are very cool, and to see them together is neat. But the flick comes freighted with all those other issues, which makes it a difficult sell.

I’d not say that The Wolf and the Lion is akin to letting, y’know, a wolf and a lion have free reign of your house. But it’s still not something I’d necessarily invite into my living room.

About the reviewer: PAUL ASAY
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.