Themes of death and grief are unlocked in this unconvincing children’s drama
The Tiger Rising is based on the children’s book by Kate DiCamillo but as I will explain later, it’s not quite the film it could have been. It stars Christian Convery (Sweet Tooth) as Rob Horton, a young boy who is living with his father in a shabby Florida motel. Life isn’t easy for him.
Not only does Rob have a hard time at school, partly because of the bullies who make fun of the rash he has on his legs, but he also has a hard time emotionally due to the recent loss of his mother who died from cancer.
Life gets a little easier for him when he meets Sistine (Madalen Mills), a girl who moves to his small town with her mother. She too is suffering a loss as her parents have separated, although she is still convinced her father will come along and whisk her away to somewhere better.
Sistine is having a hard time at school too, although this is mainly because of her attitude towards her peers, who she considers to be rednecks. Her first day at school gets off to a very bad start when she announces such a sentiment in front of her class.
Sistine and Rob start to bond when he reveals his love of art as she has a vested interest in the subject too, as you can probably tell from her name. Their relationship is still a little fractious due to her prickly personality but barriers eventually start to fall as they get to know one another.
At first, their friendship is quite sweet and it’s fun to see them interacting with one another. However, this isn’t really a movie about childhood bonding. As those who have read the book will already know, this film is really a study of grief and the unhealthiness of keeping your emotions bottled up when faced with overwhelming personal trauma.
Themes of grief and death have been played out before in such films as Bridge to Terabithia but this film largely fails to deal with them effectively. This isn’t to say it’s not worth watching – despite some critical reviews, it is fairly enjoyable – but it doesn’t handle its subjects well enough to make much of an impact.
Of course, you may be wondering where the tiger fits into all this, especially if you have seen the film’s trailer. Well, Rob discovers the caged animal when exploring the nearby woods. The tiger is owned by a seedy fella called Beauchamp (Dennis Quaid), who is also the motel owner and his dad’s grumpy boss.
Beauchamp is a bit of a coward so he asks Rob to feed the tiger, which of course he does. The boy forms an emotional attachment to the tiger, as does Sistine when she is later introduced to him.
It’s understandable why the children bond with the tiger as, in their own different ways, they are all trapped. The tiger is locked in a cage. Sistine feels trapped in the town she has ended up in. And Rob is at a place in his life where he can’t move on because of his stifled emotions. Many of us can relate to such predicaments due to the metaphorical cages that hold us prisoner.
At the risk of being on the animal’s lunch menu, Rob and Sistine put a plan in motion and release the caged animal. I won’t reveal what happens next but be warned. If you have small children watching this with you, they may be a little traumatized by the events that follow.
Adults may be traumatized too but by the clunkiness of the script as it delivers its message in a heavy-handed way. You see, it’s not only the tiger who is let free as Rob and Sistine also get the opportunity to free themselves of their bottled-up emotions. We’re back in metaphor territory again.
I haven’t read the book but I’m sure it handles the themes of grief and the need to express emotion better than the film does.
The filmmakers can be applauded for trying to handle such weighty subject matters but the lacklustre script, heavy-handed dialogue, and slightly unconvincing acting undermine what they were trying to achieve. This is a shame as there are children the world over struggling with loss due to death and divorce and this film could have been the catalyst for them to heal. Of course, the book can probably be recommended in this regard.
So, here’s the thing. The film isn’t awful but it is rather ordinary. It can be recommended for families looking for something to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon but, despite its potential, it won’t offer anything life-changing. Give it a go, especially if you have kids, but have a few tissues to hand as there could be a few tears at the end.
Verdict - 6/10