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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mia and the White Lion is a South Africa-set family drama that exposes the country's trophy-hunting industry. By allowing viewers to inhabit the fantasy of life with a pet lion, it helps deliver a powerful conservation message that may stick with kids the rest of their lives. But part of that effectiveness lies in anguishing moments in which lions are shot, killed, and in peril. Kids are also threatened and in danger, and people are harmed by animals (and other people). There's also a bit of strong language (including "s--t"). And although the movie has clear messages about taking a stand for what you believe in, respecting nature, and the importance of compassion and courage, Mia (Daniah De Villiers) is a bit of a wild animal herself. She disobeys and yells at her parents, and she runs away when it suits her -- without much in the way of consequences.
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What's the story?
In MIA AND THE WHITE LION, a tween named Mia (Daniah De Villiers) resents her family's recent move from London to South Africa to run a wildlife farm. When white lion cub Charlie is born, Mia is initially dismissive -- but she soon forms an unbreakable bond with him that her parents fear will become dangerous once he's a fully grown lion.
Is it any good?
Mia and the White Lion is so captivating that it has the potential to create a new generation of animal rights advocates. For tweens, there's the appeal of seeing someone their age have an adorable white lion cub as a pet. Ten-year-old Mia loves, snuggles, and plays with Charlie on her family's South African animal farm; it's pure fantasy for animal fans. In a remarkable feat, the movie was filmed over the course of three years, so everyone truly ages: Mia gets braces and grows long and lanky, Charlie morphs from adorable cub to dignified beast, and dad John (Langley Kirkland) has a beard that ebbs and flows while his own mane starts thinning. The unusual technique may have been done for practical purposes (apparently the only way to keep a child safe with a lion is for them to grow up together), but it's also an amazingly effective way to draw viewers in tighter to the family's concern for Mia.
That said, while audiences are set up to worry about Mia's safety, Charlie's may be the bigger concern. There's an alarming twist, and while the story is fictional, the reveal was inspired by a real-life event. And it delivers a gut punch with purpose, to create shock and outrage at the current state of legal trophy hunting in South Africa. Mia and the White Lion doesn't address some of the other underlying issues at play in South Africa (especially the long-lasting impact of colonialism), but it achieves what even some of the best nature documentaries can't: personalizing the experience of loving an animal at risk of extinction.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages of Mia and the White Lion. What is it saying about hunting? About conservation? What does Mia learn? How about her father?
Canned lion hunting is legal in South Africa. Do you think something that's unethical should be illegal? Should citizens on one side of the world have a say on how another culture handles their wildlife?
At the beginning of the movie, Mia is rude to her parents and gets into fights at school. Why do you think she behaves this way? When she runs away from the school trip, why do you think her mother doesn't punish her?
Do you think the movie offers an accurate portrayal of life in South Africa? How do stories about families like Mia's tie into the larger history and impact of colonialism?
- In theaters: April 12, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: July 2, 2019
- Cast: Daniah De Villiers, Melanie Laurent, Langley Kirkwood
- Director: Gilles de Maistre
- Studio: Leda Films
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, peril and some language
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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