While great stories are always great, good books don't always translate into good movies -- and that's the case here. The Tiger Rising's problems are many, starting with the pacing. The story moves as slowly and suffocatingly as a humid Florida summer day. First-time feature director Ray Giarratana uses elements that, in theory, should have perked things up: Rob's imagination runs wild, his drawings and wood sculptures coming to life. Bullies are constantly jabbing and poking, but Sistine punches back (or first, depending on how you look at it). And, of course, there's a tiger! Giarratana is an established special-effects supervisor (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Captain America: Civil War), and while his skills are put to great use in the form of the absolutely flawless CGI tiger, animations, and rich photography and lighting, the film lacks energy. Most of the characters are depressed, and that's what comes through on screen.
The acting is distractingly inconsistent. Dennis Quaid's Beauchamp -- the nasty, impatient owner of a seedy motel -- is just right for a kids' move villain: He's someone to fear, but we can also see his ridiculousness and unhappiness. Producer Queen Latifah plays motel maid Willie May with the relatable kindness present in most of her film characterizations. These two stand in sharp contrast to the kids who carry the weight of the dialogue. Convery and Mills aren't rookies, but their performances come off as act-y and unbelievable, something that could've been remedied by stronger direction and tighter editing. The biggest problem, though, is that the ending is so harsh. It's outrageous and upsetting and is followed by a hasty resolution in the form of voiceover that tries to tie a bow on things and say, "And so they all lived happily ever after, OKAY?!" It's the kind of ending where your jaw is on the floor, aghast that this is a kids' film. DiCamillo (who's also the author of previous movie fodder books Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Desperaux) is known as a wordsmith, crafting doses of reality in beautifully turned phrases and authentic characters, a reliable phenom in the world of children's fiction authors. But this heartbreaking story is best left on the page.