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Jean-Jacques Annaud’s previous forays into anthropology and anthropomorphic zoology attempted to penetrate the mysteries of prehuman and ursine psychology. The French writer-director’s Two Brothers, the tale of two tiger cubs who are violently separated and then reunited, is much simpler than either Quest for Fire or The Bear—and better for it. It’s essentially a kids’ movie, but with considerable appeal to adult cat fanciers. The tigers are gorgeous, and they act out the story so convincingly that Annaud and co-writer Alain Godard’s romanticized depiction of the solitary carnivores as peace-loving and family-minded seems almost credible. As in his adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, Annaud observes magnificent feral creatures at play in early-20th-century French Indochina: Two tigers meet in an abandoned jungle temple, where they chase, tussle, and mate. Cut to Mom introducing her playful cubs—later to be called Sangha and Kumal—to their father. This domestic idyll is interrupted by the appearance of English-speaking temple looter and pulp-fiction author Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce), who shoots Dad and claims Kumal. The two bond over a shared taste for honey drops, but when McRory is arrested and his plunder confiscated, Kumal ends up in a ragtag circus. A little later, a wimpy, unnamed local potentate (Oanh Nguyen) goes on a tiger hunt; Mom escapes but Sangha is captured to become the pet of Raoul (Freddie Highmore), the son of the region’s French governor. (Hiding among the boy’s toys and sleeping in his bed, the cub is every kid’s fantasy of a stuffed animal come to life.) Eventually, Sangha becomes the property of the potentate, who stages a public battle with another fierce beast: Kumal. Will the two grown siblings recognize each other, or has human abuse turned them into unthinking killing machines? Annaud’s style of storytelling is not subtle: Every significant development is first foreshadowed, then presented, and finally underlined. If you take a 6-year-old to see Two Brothers, he or she probably won’t have any questions afterward. Except, perhaps, “Weren’t Sangha and Kumal cool?’’

—Mark Jenkins