Reviewed by Angel Cohn

Jean-Jacques Annaud, director of the similarly themed THE BEAR (1989), devotes less time to plot than to re-creating the magical beauty of early 20th-century Southeast Asia and coaxing "performances" out of tigers without special-effects trickery. The Great Tiger and Tigress live in relative peace and harmony with nature among deserted ruins with their two cubs. But literary adventurer Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce) discovers there's money to be made scavenging for jungle artifacts and invades the tigers' forgotten sanctuary. While the mother cat scrambles to hide her young, their father tries to drive off the intruders and attacks a member of Aidan's fortune-hunting party; Aidan kills the angry beast. The Tigress carries one cub to safety while the other gets left behind. Aidan adopts it and names him Kumal, but when Aidan's carted off to jail for desecrating national treasures, Kumal is sold into prison-like conditions at a local circus. The regional governor (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) arranges Aidan's release so he can arrange a tiger-hunting expedition for the local prince (Oahn Nyguen). Aidan reluctantly sets a trap, which the Tigress narrowly escapes, but the governor's son, Raoul (Freddie Highmore), discovers Kumal's brother and takes the cub, which he names Sangha, home as a pet. Sangha soon proves too wild for the governor's household and is given as a gift to the prince, who has the tiger trained to fight. A year later, the grown tiger brothers are tossed together in an enclosed ring to battle to the death, but recognize each other and plot to escape their captors. Annaud's greatest accomplishment is making impressively clear what's on his tigers' minds through judicious editing rather than voice-over thoughts or speech delivered through furry CGI lips. Pearce and the rest of the human actors seem to be an afterthought, but the film is beautiful, the grown tigers majestic and the cubs utterly adorable. Some of the film's more violent scenes may be inappropriate for young and/or sensitive children.