Sunday, February 13, 2011

On DVD: Michael Swan/Kevin Richardson's WHITE LION, a fable of South Africa

A dulcet-toned black man speaks to a group of children, black and white, telling them the tale of a supposedly famous and unusual white lion whose "reign" augurs peace and prosperity for the land. This lion ruled over his domain way back when, but then he disappeared. Years -- maybe decades -- later, a new white cub is born and the tale takes us through his birth to young adulthood, with the teller and his kids breaking into the narrative now and again to ask questions or express concern. Other than some pleasant and occasionally beautiful wildlife photography, that's pretty much it for this unexceptional but mildly rewarding "family" movie from South Africa. If you and your kids can't get to the new documentary that opens this week -- The Last Lions -- then White Lion might be a presentable alternative, as it makes its DVD debut this week, after a very limited theatrical release last fall.

Although there are various threats to the little cub and his older version that pop up along the way -- hyenas, a snake, crocodiles (below), other lions, fire and, of course, man -- filmmakers Michael Swan (above, left) and Kevin Richardson (above, right, with camera) make certain that scares and violence are kept to the minimum, along with any blood and gore.

Though there are actors in the film, primarily the young native boy Gisani (Thabo Malema, shown center, two photos above), who becomes the lion cub's primary protector, the movie relies mostly on photography and that narrator, essayed by South African theater-and-film luminary John Kani, to guide the film to fruition. Along the way, according to the credits, some 25 white lions were used to portray the lead, awhile something like double or triple that amount were used to brings us the more heavily populated "tawny" variety.

In the midst of all this,there is quite an interesting moment when the narrator tells the kids that there is a new threat to our lovely lion: the "most dangerous creature in all the land: man."  Well, excuse me, but what species would he call our friend Gisani, who's been protecting and following the lion for most of the movie?  Of course, our narrator really means to say "white man," and if he had added that extra word, it would have been perfectly appropriate -- and OK by me.

In any case, by the film's end only one lion has bitten the dust (off-screen, of course) and there has been one nice little surprise, too. And, despite your being able to resist the film for most of the way, its ending is likely to leave you feeling more emotional than you'd intended and maybe even with a catch in your throat.

From Screen Media Films, White Lion makes its DVD debut Tuesday, February 15, for sale or rental.

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