What happens when a girl and a lion become friends? And not in a fairytale Disney way, but like in real life? We reveal this in our review of the film, which transforms from a relaxed, light family film into a serious drama with a message MIA AND THE WHITE LION.
Mia and the White Lion
The Plot Summary
Ten-year-old Mia (Daniah de Villiers) only reluctantly leaves her beloved home of London behind. Because her parents (Langley Kirkwood and Mélanie Laurent) open a lion breeding facility with an attached bed and breakfast guesthouse in the South African steppe. Once there, the girl, who had just been so happy, misses her friends and is desperately unhappy. That only changes when her dad entrusts her with a snow-white lion cub born on the family farm. Over the next three years, a strong bond of love and trust develops between the girl and Charlie, who slowly but surely grows into a powerful predator. However, after an almost fatal incident with a careless tourist, Mia’s father wants to sell the lion with the unusual fur. And of all things to a windy neighbor who offers rare animals to big game hunters to shoot. Mia wants to save her four-legged companion from this terrible fate. She decides to bring the animal, which weighs over 150 kilos, to safety by making it to a nature reserve on the other side of the country on her own…
Mia and the White Lion explanation of the movie & ending
To date, Gilles de Maistre has appeared almost exclusively as a documentary filmmaker. It’s no surprise that the French filmmaker wanted to make his first feature film based on a fictional story in over 15 years as authentic as possible. For “Mia and the White Lion” the director took an unconventional narrative path, starting as a turbulent, rather light family film against a breathtaking backdrop with wonderful images of the South African landscape and the fauna moving in it. When Mia becomes a teenager, the plot takes on a darker, much more serious dynamic that even approaches thriller territory. Because what the bright girl finds out about her father is quite oppressive, especially for family films. Because the farm and pension don’t generate enough money, he has already sold lions several times to the greasy guy on the neighboring farm. De Maistre, who also works as a co-author, not only ensures an important, credibly implemented twist in the plot. He also cleverly draws attention to a grievance that is largely ignored by the world public. And this despite the fact that it plays a crucial role in ensuring that these beautiful animals are becoming increasingly rare and will soon be seriously threatened with extinction.
Mia’s brother Mick also likes little Charlie.
The idea for “Mia and the White Lion” came to de Maistre years ago. At that time, he made a documentary for French television about a lion farm where a child lived in close proximity to giant predators. Only after finishing the work did the filmmaker find out that the little boy’s parents had not released the lions into the wild to preserve the species, as they claimed in front of his camera, or had sold them exclusively to zoos and wildlife parks. On the contrary: They bred them in order to sell them, mostly for profit, to rich big game hunters and trophy collectors who had traveled from abroad, who shot them mercilessly, sometimes heavily sedated or even lying in a cage. A practice that is widespread across the continent and is a huge business, which is unfortunately not banned in South Africa or various other countries or at least tacitly tolerated by governments. Making this topic the focal point of a family-friendly entertainment film is at least daring.
But the film is not only recommended because of its important message. Above all, it tells the stirring story of an unusual friendship that will appeal to moviegoers of all ages. The relationship between the girl and the lion is so touching for the viewer because it not only seems authentic, but actually is. Instead of commissioning a special effects house to conjure up an almost deceptively real CGI lion on the screen, as is usual in such cases these days, de Maistre really wanted to have a real animal in front of the lens. To ensure that there was no disaster during the work, the lion had to be familiar with the young actress. And she too had to be able to trust him at all times. Which would have been impossible if the film had been shot in just a few weeks. But De Maistre knew a man who could help him, also through a previous documentary shoot.
Mia (Daniah de Villiers) and her father John (Langley Kirkwood) enjoy the vastness of South Africa
Kevin Richardson, world-famous “lion whisperer” and proven expert in the field of gentle predator training, assisted the production as a consultant (if you are interested, simply enter his name and the words “lion whisperer” on YouTube). He told the director that there was only one way to make his film with a real lion. This girl and the girl playing Mia should know each other inside out. They would have to grow up together as a kind of sibling pair. “Mia and the White Lion,” similar to Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” was shot in several stages over the years. Actor newcomer Daniah de Villiers lived on the farm between the ages of eleven and 14, which also became the main filming location. So de Villiers, accompanied and monitored by Richardson, had close contact every day with her co-star, who over time grew from a cute, cuddly kitten to a colossus that continued to be life-threatening to other people. The rest of the cast kept coming back for individual scenes, so that a real sense of community developed between everyone. A huge, unusual effort, but absolutely worth it. Rarely has a film earned the label “for young and old” as much as this one.
Conclusion: A movingly realistic film with a remarkable, first-class transition from classic family entertainment to an exciting drama. The atmospheric images of the wonderful South African nature are an additional bonus that would (almost) justify going to the cinema alone.
“Mia and the White Lion” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from January 31st.