The Tiger Rising, 2022.
Written and Directed by Ray Giarratana.
Starring Christian Convery, Madalen Mills, Dennis Quaid, Queen Latifah, Sam Trammell, Katharine McPhee, Angela Giarratana, Selah Kimbro Jones, Faith Dillon, and Nicholas Ryan Hernandez.
When 12-year-old Rob Horton discovers a caged tiger in the woods near his home, his imagination runs wild and life begins to change in the most unexpected ways. With the help of a wise and mysterious maid, Willie May, and the stubborn new girl in school, he must navigate through childhood memories, heartache, and wondrous adventures.
The Tiger Rising is the trickiest kind of children’s movie to pull off, the kind that deals with grieving the loss of a parent. 12-year-old Rob Horton (Christian Convery) is struggling to cope with the loss of his mother at the hands of cancer, while also having trouble fitting in at a new school following him and his father Robert Horton Sr. (Sam Trammell) packing up and moving to Florida. Now, one might get confused and assume the story is set in Kentucky given its part of the name of the motel they live in, but it turns out to be just a quirk of a cartoonishly unhinged order played by Dennis Quaid.
Beauchamp (Quaid) also happens to have a tiger caged up off the beaten path and into the surrounding woods, which Robert comes across one day, deciding on visiting and feeding it in exchange for making friends. The other kids are bullies for no reason (in the most unconvincing of ways), the uneducated principal assumes Rob’s leg rashes are contagious, so he sends him home, and there are communication troubles at home. Fortunately, there are two sources of companionship for Robert. The first is another new student named Sistine Bailey (played by Madalen Mills), and the other is motel housekeeper Willie (a Queen Latifah who has never looked more disinterested and bored making quips).
It soon becomes evident that these children have polar opposite personalities. Sistine is more willing to share personal details of her life, whereas Robert has trouble saying that his mom is no longer among the living when he is pressed to talk about his family. The Tiger Rising (which is based on the children’s novel by Kate DiCamillo, adapted for the screen and directed by visual effects veteran making his second narrative feature 20+ years after his debut, Ray Giarratana) is also not subtle in regards to the caged beast functioning as a metaphor for the way both of these kids respond and deal with the hardships of life they face (Sistine doesn’t get along with her mother and is convinced her dad is going to pick her up and take her away to live together, which quickly becomes a delusional way of thinking to viewers).
That would also be fine if the film weren’t tonally all over the place to the part where it’s difficult to tell what demographic of children The Tiger Rising is for. At times, the dialogue is absurdly cheesy with bullying scenes no one will buy into, and then it will go into a heavy exchange between father and son that seems tailored to a slightly older crowd. There are also flashbacks to Robert’s connection with his mother, Caroline (Katharine McPhee), showcasing their shared passion for wood sculpting while dipping into some religious overtones, so throw in some faith-based appeal (especially considering the kids become convinced that Willie has a connection to God).
Of course, all of the above could be salvaged if perhaps The Tiger Rising reels in all these aspects for a coherent finale and a clear, helpful purpose for younger viewers. However, the story goes from well-meaning to a complete disaster of confusing messages. None of this is helped by the fact that director Ray Giarratana has no idea how to get believable performances from these child actors (I will admit one is slightly better than the other, but neither of them should be blamed or held responsible for this travesty), bestow the narrative with a sense of wonder, and provide passable special effects. Dennis Quaid is exceedingly awful here, at one point getting pissed on by the titular tiger (that’s what passes for comedy here). The incompetence of The Tiger Rising is the cinematic equivalent to that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com