‘The Wolf and the Lion’: The animals roar, but the script howls

“The Wolf and the Lion” (2022) – “Life happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Alma (Molly Kunz) certainly knows this message.  She’s a top student at New York City’s St. Mary’s Academy for Music, and has her sights set on playing piano for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  This scholarly young woman isn’t your standard bicoastal soon-to-be-professional.  She’s a small-town girl from Canada. Her parents passed away, and Alma’s only family connections are her godfather Joe (Graham Greene) and grandfather (Jean Drolet). 

Unfortunately, as our movie begins, Alma has to shuttle away from The Big Apple to The Great White North to attend her grandpa’s funeral.  This friendly hermit resided in a spacious cabin on his private island, and with the greenest of green evergreens in every direction – and lakes and streams to boot – this remote, picturesque spot seems about the farthest locale from New York City and Los Angeles as one can get.  Unbeknownst to Alma, she will call this setting her home for the foreseeable future.

Dreamer (Paddington) and Mozart (Walter)

In director Gilles de Maistre’s live-action children’s film, “The Wolf and the Lion”, the two leads are named in the title.  In just 24 hours after paying respects to her grandpa’s memory, a wolf drops off her cub at the homestead, and a lion cub literally falls into Alma’s arms.

Wow, that’s quite a day.  And how was your Wednesday? 

Anyways, Alma soon decides to shelve piano and become a full-time mama to this tiny twosome.  Hey, the little canine and feline seem to love each other and Alma, and this new 20-something mother reciprocates, so hey, why not?   

What could go wrong?

“The Wolf and the Lion” is a kids’ movie all the way because pragmatic adults need to suspend an abundance of disbelief. Look, Alma – who previously studied piano like a singularly-focused savant – is suddenly caring for wild animals.    

Are wolf cubs allergic to gluten?  Are baby lions good with whole milk, or is 2% a better option?

Meanwhile, Joe doesn’t check up on Alma for months and months, because one day, he sees the petite pair as babies, and during his next stop, they are full-grown adults. 

Didn’t he pop by for lunch or a Scrabble night during all this time?  

Joe (Graham Greene) and Alma (Molly Kunz)

Sure, Joe shows concern when he sees a Tiger-King state of affairs with four-legged carnivores living at grandpa’s old house.  Still, he shrugs with an okay-I-suppose-you-got-this stance with his goddaughter. 

Sure, as long as Alma – from now on – contacts him once a day via their walkie-talkies, everything should work out fine.  Right?

Some viewers – including this critic – might wonder about Kunz’s safety during the 99-minute movie, because yes, de Maistre filmed real cubs who then grew to adults.  According to Ghislain Loustalot’s October 16, 2021 Paris Match article, a lion named Walter and a wolf called Paddington were raised together, beginning at 5-weeks-old, and “they grew up under the cameras of Gilles de Maistre during two years of filming.” 

Yes, the animals are not CGI recreations, and when they are cooing infants, Walter and Paddington – who are named Mozart and Dreamer in the film – are as adorable as a puppy and kitten, albeit about 15-pound kiddos.  When they are adults, it’s a bit surreal watching them as actors.  They play, run, pal-around, look for meals, and travel home to Alma.

(In the same Paris Match article, the on-set animal specialist, Andrew Simpson, two or three members of his team, and Kunz were the only ones in contact with the animals.  The filmmakers worked behind barriers, apparently.) 

You see, a scientist (Charlie Carrick) nabs Mozart, and a circus owner (Evan Buliung) corrals Dreamer, who was his lion cub from the beginning, so our wolf and lion have to find their way back to the island cabin.  These two humans are clumsy, made-for-a-kids’-movie antagonists, and while Eli (Carrick) has good intentions, Allan (Buliung) repeatedly whips Dreamer – off-screen – with proud bravado as his son watches in horror. 

Mozart (Walter) and Dream (Paddington)

Don’t fret.  Allan doesn’t abuse Dreamer on-screen, and his lion act is an uber-tame show, but captivity is still captivity, and the movie’s overall lesson is that animals should live freely.  So, Alma, Mozart, and Dreamer will hopefully reconnect, so the pair will live at the house and roam all over the island as they wish. 

Indeed, this is an altruistic concept, but when working with four-legged actors, they may dictate the story’s terms.

“There is no trickery with the animals.  We had to adapt to their actions (and) rewrite every day.  We changed the script 16 times,” de Maistre said in the aforementioned Paris Match article.

While watching the film, it certainly seems like rewrites happened on the fly.  So, if you thought that de Maistre was (kind of) making it up as he went along, you’d be right. 

“The Wolf and the Lion” feels like a considerable but loose Montessori project, but kudos to de Maistre, Kunz, and the teams involved with this innovative achievement.  Judging from the advanced movie screening (that I attended), kids and animal lovers seemed to enjoy this film. 

Hopefully, children will internalize the movie’s broader message, not the impractical idea to adopt wolf and lion babies.  See, my pragmatic adult side is speaking again.

⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: Gilles de Maistre

Written by: Gilles de Maistre and Prune de Maistre

Starring: Molly Kunz, Graham Greene, Charlie Carrick, and Evan Buliung

Rated: PG

Runtime: 99 minutes

Image credits: StudioCanal

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