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Eleanor Porter (Linda Purl) is a nurse/practitioner in a South African clinic, who is given David Thompson (Chris Noth), a Chicago biological researcher with a 2 year grant and 2 children, Rand (Jonathan Brandis) and Jena (Lea Moreno). Eleanor has her own daughter Val (Arianna Richards), who cares for a domesticated lion cub Elsa, before she is due to be shipped to a zoo. Rand and Val want Elsa to be integrated back into the wild instead, and train her to this end. Will it work?
Purl's role doesn't give her much to play, an initial resentment of David because he got the grant her friend wanted, an equally worried parent when Rand and Val run away, and finally a supporter of the cause, however there is an amusing edit from a closeup of her to a wilderbeast. And despite Eleanor's seemingly stronger position, her sparring with David works against her because Noth is the funnier performer.
The teleplay by John McGreevey, based on characters from the book Born Free by Joy Adamson, has the audacity to actually have Rand and Val told to read Adamson's book for tips! Talk about self-reverential. Although presumably pitched as a children's film, director Tommy Lee Wallace allows Brandis to deliver a mannered James Dean-inspired polymorphously perverse performance, supplies an artificial looking crocodile to interrupt the Blue Lagoon teen romance, and uses stock footage for Elsa's in the wild tests.
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