Two Brothers

The heart of the irresistibly cute Two Brothers lies in the performances of a myriad of tigers, acting as brothers Kumal and Sangha. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy at the Gates, Seven Years in Tibet) knows his way around animals, as he made a similar film, The Bear, in 1988. Both films are spectacles in that they take animals and anthropomorphize them, enough so that people believe that they have complex emotions. And, since this is a children's movie, there is an earnest moral and a happy ending. The earnestness of Two Brothers contrasts with the simplicity of its human characters, who are downright silly at times. There is something very weird about the fact that the tigers seem better at acting than their human counterparts. Still, it all boils down to having ample time to watch the tigers, especially as cubs, frolic and play together, oblivious to the dangers of the world around them.

Again, this is a family film, so kids will most likely not notice the shallow characterizations. Annaud and co-writer Alain Godard (Enemy at the Gates, Wings of Courage) downplay some of the potentially violent aspects of these beautiful creatures, and play up their cuteness and messages of conservation. And Annaud did a marvelous job filming them. He used all sorts of tricks in order to get the various tigers to react how he wanted to, and filmed by letting his digital camera run, so he could capture natural movements. The results are impressive. Everybody is aware of how dangerous tigers can be, but they just look so darn adorable and majestic at the same time.

The human characters are another matter. Tomb raider Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce, Til Human Voices Wake Us, The Hard Word) kills the cubs' father, separating Kumal and Sangha. McRory captures and befriends Kumal, but eventually sells him to a circus, where Zerbino (Vincent Scarito, Pretty Things, The King Dances) abuses him and forces him to perform. The script portrays Kumal as bolder and more aggressive compared to the shyer, tamer Sangha, who ends up as the pet of Raoul (Freddie Highmore, Women Talking Dirty). After some mischief, Sangha ends up belonging to a Prince (Oanh Nguyen, Clockstoppers), and years later, McRory has a change of heart when he discovers the conditions that Kumal lives in.

Most of these situations set up either harrowing scenes involving tiger abuse, cute scenes with tigers at play with Highmore, or slapstick scenes meant to elicit laughter. They all work to a certain extent, but the way that Annaud keeps switching tones drastically does get somewhat tiring. As adults, the tigers encounter each other again when the Prince forces them to fight to the death in front of an audience. The level of drama here is probably the highest, even when it is blatantly obvious that Annaud is not going to have one tiger kill the other. Two Brothers is harmless entertainment, much more satisfying than other so-called 'family' films, and with a stronger message. The good news is that any of the brainlessness exhibited by the human characters is more than offset by the wonderful shots of tigers.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 49 minutes, Rated PG for mild violence.

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