Old-fashioned family entertainment that recalls Disney’s “True-Life Adventures,” South African pic “White Lion” offers a live-action “Lion King,” charting the titular protagonist’s journey from cub to king of his pride. First directorial feature by vet second-unit helmer and d.p. Michael Swan excels in its wildlife and landscape photography. But pic develops scant narrative momentum or emotional engagement, so tykes and grownups alike may grow restless by the midpoint. Opening Oct. 15 in Memphis, St. Louis and Louisville, pic is unlikely to gain much theatrical momentum, though decent prospects await in ancillary.
Framing device has a campfire storyteller (John Kani) recounting the white lion’s legend as a tribal totem of peace and prosperity. Once, a young Shangaan man (Thabo Malema) went off in search of the rare beast, appointing himself protector of snowy-hued newborn Letsatsi after the two accidentally cross paths. The maturing cat is soon forced alone into unfamiliar territory, attracting hunters eager to bag such a rare trophy. Shot over the course of several years, the narration-heavy feature’s flat pacing and pedestrian action eventually overwhelm one’s appreciation of “Lion Whisperer” Kevin Richardson’s splendid animal wrangling. Tech aspects are polished.