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The Lion at World’s End

Posted by martinteller on December 12, 2012

A few years ago I saw this popular YouTube video, barely over a minute long.  It tells the story of Ace & John, two young men who bought a lion cub in a London department store (Harrod’s, to be precise), which they named Christian.  But when it got too large to care for, they released it in the wild in Kenya.  They return a year later to visit Christian.  That’s pretty much all there is to the video, a few stills and then scenes from the reunion.  As a lifelong cat lover, I found the video very heartwarming.

That touching reunion scene is from this documentary, and it comes at the very end.  The film tells everything that happened in between.  The YouTube clip makes it look like they just dump Christian off and let him roam free.  In actuality, there was a lot more to it.  They first took Christian to Bill Travers (the director and narrator of this documentary) and his wife Virginia McKenna.  They were actors who had played George and Joy Adamson in the film Born Free.  The Adamsons were game wardens/conservationists who had raised a lion cub and prepared her for life in the wild.  Now Travers and McKenna were active in animal welfare, had made other films on the subject, and had a compound where Christian could run around.  But it would only stay there a brief time, before being shipped to Kenya, and put in the care of… George Adamson.

Sorry for the convoluted background, but that’s how it went down.  The bulk of the film focuses on Adamson’s attempts to put together a “pride” of his own, finding suitable companions for a human-raised lion.  The most significant of these is “Boy”, a lion who had appeared in Born Free but George had partially rehabilitated him to the wild, so he had a foot — or paw — in both worlds.  Watching the relationship develop between Christian and Boy is quite fascinating, with the careful guidance of Adamson, choosing other lions to introduce to the mix.  There are triumphs and surprises, touching moments and tragic setbacks.

The film is told entirely by the narration of Travers and McKenna, except for a brief recording by Adamson.  You never see anyone speak on camera.  I wouldn’t say this choice is either an asset or a drawback, although it would have been nice to hear some of Ace & John’s affection towards their unusual friend.  More bothersome choices are the obviously staged opening, and the music by folk group Pentagle.  Their instrumental score is fine, if a little cheesy, but it gets downright ridiculous during the several songs that comment on Christian’s progression.

Minor gripes about the music and a few not quite “real” moments aside, it’s an enjoyable film for anyone who has affection for felines.  It provides insight into how they live in the wild, and makes you think twice about your local zoo.  Rating: Very Good (81)

IMDb
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