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Wild, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/20/06 20:56:03

"Beware movies directed by guys named 'Spaz.'"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

If there is such a thing online as a Random Cartoon Plot Generator (and knowing the internet, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were), then the creators of “The Wild” must have been using it for every single scene. Here now is a sampling of the many, many things lifted from other family features, if not entirely, then at least in the spirit of the cliché:

1. The story involves a group of animals who break free from the New York Zoo, cross the Atlantic, and find comic adventure somewhere in Africa. Considering how long it takes to make an animated film, we cannot say that Disney’s “The Wild” is indeed a direct rip-off of DreamWorks’ hit from last summer, “Madagascar.” We can, however, be certain that the makers of “The Wild” have been kicking themselves non-stop ever since “Madagascar” hit theaters, as plot points out the wazoo resurface here. Note the lion who’s the star attraction of the zoo yet knows nothing about life in the wild, the meeting of funny talking native animals (including some with potentially offensive stereotyped accents), and, of course, the big song-and-dance number.

2. The story also involves the lion’s quest to find his son, who ran away, only to get stuck in a crate headed toward Africa. Many have cried foul here, suggesting the plot rips off Pixar’s greatest work to date, the lost-fish masterpiece “Finding Nemo.” I’ll defend “The Wild” by stating that many films before “Nemo” also used the lost-child/desperate-parent/both-learn-lessons theme. Which, come to think of it, isn’t much of a defense, as it merely suggests that instead of stealing from one movie, this one falls back on tired material that’s been recycled countless times before.

3. One plot point has the lead character, Samson the lion (blandly voiced by Keifer Sutherland), hiding his secret - that he is not from the wild and knows nothing about a life of danger - from his friends and son. The Random Cartoon Plot Generator informs us that we must now have a scene late in the film in which Samson learns to “dig deep” (the movie’s forced, awkward catch phrase), follow his instincts, and realize that yes, he is the king of the jungle after all.

4. Another plot point has Samson’s son, Ryan (Greg Cipes), unable to impressively roar at the start of the film. All he can produce is a meow-ish squeak. Again we are forced to obey the Random Cartoon Plot Generator, which commands that Ryan roar like a champion lion in the climactic scene.

5. A subplot delivers us Benny the squirrel (James Belushi), who is hopelessly in love with Bridget the giraffe (Janeane Garofalo), who, in turn, wants little to do with him. Oh, Random Cartoon Plot Generator, must we happily resolve this romance by the closing credits? I suppose we must.

6. There is a side bit in which the animals wind up lost in the sewers of New York city, and they come across two rather hungry-looking alligators. Yes, folks, these two creatures come to us courtesy the Random Cartoon Plot Generator, which insists on making them not dangerous but instead surprisingly friendly, har har.

What “The Wild” is above all else is hopelessly by-the-numbers. It is a cartoon that never inspires, rarely entertains, and too often bores. There’s a surprising lack of charm that even Disney’s dopier recent works managed to achieve, but here, it’s family moviemaking by rote. It’s not a horrible movie by any means, but not once is it an enjoyable one. The movie never seems interested in itself, so how can we bother to keep watching?

(Having finally seen it, I can now understand why Disney found it impossible to find a single major retailer interested in producing toys based on their new characters; surely Toys ‘R’ Us and Target knew to avoid such losses. I can also understand why Disney chose this as their first cartoon not screened in advance for critics. The move to all-computer animated productions was supposed to rescue the studio, but if this is the best they can do, then they’re in deeper trouble than originally predicted. Hopefully the Pixar gang can help clean up the mess and set things right before it gets too late.)

On the plus side - yes, there is a plus side - the animation is lively and impressive, several steps up from that certain DreamWorks effort. And then there’s Eddie Izzard, who voices the Koala bear (he is, for some reason, from London); Izzard’s apparent ad libs in the recording booth do not fit one bit into this film yet were funny enough to earn some random chuckles.

So that’s not much of a plus side. Not even the appearance of William Shatner (who is sadly relegated to an unbelievably boring villain role) can save this one from certain doom. “The Wild” is sloppy and dull and built entirely with clichés, a Disney product that goes through the motions but refuses to try for anything better.

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