Following Holes, Secondhand Lions is the year's second unexpected family movie success story. Haley Joel Osment, Robert Duvall, and Michael Caine are impressing parents with their roles in director Tim McCanlies's whimsical story about a boy who finds much-needed father figures in his two eccentric uncles. The film has comedy, adventure, mystery, wild animals, and hidden treasure. It also has memorable performances, an unpredictable script, and a lot of heart. Last week, Film Forum featured early reviews. This week, more have come in, and so have impressive box office numbers.

At an early screening of the film, I joined other critics from the religious press to chat with Tim McCanlies and his cast. McCanlies does not look like a Hollywood filmmaker. He's an exuberant, down-to-earth Texan who clearly loves storytelling.

"I've been a writer for fifteen years in Hollywood and I had all these pent-up things I wanted to say," he says, referring to the many lessons learned by the young hero. "I guess I crammed it all into one script."

Young Walter is just the latest in a long tradition of big-screen kids who are either orphans or single-parented. When a critic asked McCanlies why this film and his previous family movie, an animated feature called The Iron Giant, have both been about fatherless boys, he explained. "When I was growing up, my father was in the military, so I was on my own a lot. People joke and ask, 'Why do kids in animated films have no parents, or only one parent?' And the glib answer is, "Well, that's one less person you have to animate."

There are a lot of themes weaving through Lions. Did the director have one central idea he was trying to communicate? "In this case, I was really trying to get at what it is that ...

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