Starring Daniah De Villiers. Rated PG
Released in 1981, Roar was met with shocked amazement by the few people who actually saw it. The film was a vanity project shot on the ranch of writer-director Noel Marshall and his wife, Tippi Hedren. Its mix of low comedy, high action, and environmental sermonizing was already nuts, but the much bigger distraction was watching the film’s puny humans stubbornly trying to act alongside a free-roaming pride of lions. Daughter Melanie Griffith, a young teen at the time, still carries the scars from this act of madness.
If it wasn’t such an instant obscurity, Roar would be on our minds as we watch young Mia (Daniah De Villiers) being tackled in Gilles de Maistre’s film by adult white lion Charlie. It’s shocking to see her folding like wet tissue beneath his monstrous paws, even if he’s “playing.” Kids might be troubled by some of these WTF moments, depending on constitution, but super cuteness prevails for the most part.
He’s barely weeks old when we first meet the cub Charlie, a gift from dad (Warrior’s Langley Kirkwood) to Mia, whose pissed that she’s been relocated from London to the family lion farm in South Africa. After bonding with Charlie, and discovering in the process the real nature of the farm’s work, Mia sets out to free her companion, walking him through a packed shopping mall in one wild sequence.
There’s not much else to it. This is a film that leans pretty heavily on its exoticness. Filmed over three years, we watch Mia age from 11 to 14 in real life, alongside a cast including Inglourious Basterds’ Mélanie Laurent. Such unusual challenges rob the film of its coherency at times, but so what? Who’s going to tear their eyes away from that big, beautiful cat?
Title cards about extinction and the vile business of “canned hunting” have drawn skepticism from some wildlife groups. More to its credit, nobody evidently walked away from this project like Roar cinematographer Jan de Bont. He had to have his scalp reattached.