In the children’s drama “The Tiger Rising,” a lonely boy whose mother recently died finds a spiritual ally when he discovers a caged tiger in a forest behind his home in rural Florida.
Rob (Christian Convery) is a shy 12-year-old whose skin disorder has made him a target for his classmates. They call him, in an example of the movie’s flavorless affectations, Disease Boy.
Rob stumbles upon the tiger when he wanders the woods alone, but the quiet boy is an unlikely companion for such a wild creature. It’s only when he befriends a spirited new student named Sistine (Madalen Mills) that Rob’s imagination is given room to grow.
Loneliness bonds the two outcasts, and together, they find an outlet for their frustrations by visiting the tiger. They want to set the animal free, even if it’s against the advice of the one adult Rob and Sistine trust, Willie May (Queen Latifah), a maid whom the children think of as a prophet.
The director and screenwriter, Ray Giarratana, mixes elements of whimsy and childhood longing into “The Tiger Rising,” based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, with drawings that come to life and vivid dreams of tigers running wild. The fantasy sequences provide the film with momentary zings of energy. But imagination is short-lived, as the movie seems to wring every drop of sentiment from its scenes of lonesome dreamers.
Here, children are angels who overcome demons, Black women are endowed with otherworldly wisdom, and tigers are symbols of spiritual emancipation. The metaphors are so obvious that the film becomes trapped in its own cage of archetypes and clichés, and unlike the tiger, there is no champion to open the gates to a more original cinematic world.