Director : Steve “Spaz” Williams
Screenplay : Mark Gibson & Philip Halprin (story by Ed Decter & John J. Strauss)
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 2006
Not since the dueling destructive asteroid movies of ’98 has there been such sharply etched proof of Hollywood’s frequent creative bankruptcy. It was barely a year ago that I sat in a theater watching DreamWorks’s Madagascar, a fitfully amusing computer-animated comedy about a group of animals led by a lion that breaks out of a New York Zoo. Now, here I am watching Disney’s The Wild, a fitfully amusing computer-animated comedy about a group of animals led by a lion that breaks out of a New York Zoo.
Oh, sure, there are important differences. For example, the giraffe in Madagascar is a hypochondriac voiced nervously by David Schwimmer, whereas the giraffe in The Wild is a saucy female voiced by Janeane Garofalo. There’s no zebra voiced by Chris Rock in The Wild, but we do get a fed-up koala bear voiced by Eddie Izzard who is constantly irked by the fact that everyone thinks he’s cute. And the basic reason for the escape from the zoo is slightly different: In Madagascar, the other animals follow after Rock’s zebra, who wants to get out of the zoo and return to his natural roots, whereas in The Wild, the other animals follow the headstrong son of Samson the lion (Keifer Sutherland) who, in typical Disney fashion, rebels against his father because he can’t “find his roar.”
In both movies, the animals find themselves back in the untrammeled wilderness, albeit in different locals (Madagascar strands its animals on the island of Madagascar, natch, whereas the animals in The Wild wind up back in Africa). What is most telling about both the similarities between the two movies and their respective failures is that they both run out of steam once the animals have escaped the zoo and made a dangerous trip through the urban wilds of New York City. This forces both movies to result to bizarre plot developments that could be read as intentional parody if the movies hadn’t been so expensive.
The second half of The Wild features a truly head-spinning turn of events in which the escaped animals find themselves face-to-face with a pack of cultish, volcano-dwelling wildebeests who are sick of being at the bottom of the food chain and have thus decided to turn themselves in carnivores. And what better way to announce one’s resolve to become a meat eater than to eat a lion cub? Hence, much of the movie’s final third takes place in the hellish-red environs of the inside of a volcano where William Shatner’s crazed wildebeest leader rants and raves about the injustices of the food chain and Patrick Warbuton rehashes his comical supporting role from Disney’s vastly superior and much more anarchically funny The Emperor’s New Groove (2000).
On some level, The Wild is perversely enjoyably, if only for its downright weirdness. Yet, much of it is so rote and so predictably crushed into the prefabricated Disney mold that it’s impossible to kick off the unpleasant aroma of “been there, done that.” Following the disappointing Chicken Little, which was released last fall, The Wild seems to confirm that Disney’s computer animation arm is at a loss without Pixar as a partner. The movie looks great--you can count the intricately computer-animated hairs on Samson’s head--but when it doesn’t feel like it’s treading in the footsteps of previous, better movies (including Disney’s own The Lion King, whose Broadway adaptation gets a cheeky wink in the form of a Times Square billboard), it’s ludicrously heading off into uncharted waters without so much as a paddle to keep it afloat.
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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