Featuring the voices of:
Samson the Lion: Kiefer Sutherland
Benny the Squirrel: Jim Belushi
Bridget the Giraffe: Janeane Garofalo
Larry the Snake: Richard Kind
Nigel the Koala: Eddie Izzard
Ryan the Cub: Greg Cipes
Kazar the Wildebeest: William Shatner
Blag the Wildebeest: Patrick Warburton
Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Steve “Spaz” Williams. Written by Ed Dector, Mark Gibson, Philip Halprin and John J. Strauss. Running time: 94 min. Rated G.
The first comment I ever heard anyone make about this film was that it looked like they probably liked it better the first time they saw it when it was called “Madagascar”. That comment was made the first time I ever saw “The Wild” trailer back in the fall of last year. It may have been me that said it. Unfortunately, it was true.
The primary difference between “Madagascar” – which I enjoyed, but many did not – and “The Wild” is that “Madagascar” was willing to take some risks with its ideas and even designs, while “The Wild” wants to play it safe despite its rather absurd concept. Right down to the realistic rendering of its CGI created animal characters, the creators of “The Wild” don’t seem to understand that zoo animals with aspirations and behavior patterns matching those of human beings is something based more in the abstract than within the realm of reality.
The film opens with a fantasy sequence, which despite its traditional hand-drawn looking rendering turns out to be the most visually stunning sequence of the movie. It is a visualization of a story the hero, Samson (Kiefer Sutherland, TV’s “24”), is telling his son Ryan (Greg Cipes, “Club Dread”) about his life in the wild before becoming the resident lion of the New York Zoo. Samson thinks his stories will inspire Ryan to find his “roar.” The technique back fires, inspiring Ryan to stow away in a storage box headed for the wild, where he can find his voice in the same environment as his dad.
There is an incident before Ryan stows away where he is shamed that acts as a good example of how the filmmakers fail to create a fully realized universe for its characters. At night the Zoo becomes a place where the animals get to live their fun lives after their “work” days. As most of the animals are gathered in the artic environment pen to play games, Ryan and a couple friends decide to go scare the antelope as they might actually do on the African plain. I can’t help but wonder why aren’t the antelope like the rest of the animals joining in on the camaraderie of the after hours activities? Why are they the only animals that continue to act and react like animals when the zoo has closed to visitors?
The answer is… for the convenience of the plot alone. Ryan’s shame in scaring the antelope and causing a stampede within the zoo is the all too contrived catalyst which sends him packing; therefore forcing his father to head out into – first the big city, then the wild – looking for his lost son. Samson is not alone in his adventure. He brings along four friends: an awkward giraffe named Bridget (Janeane Garofalo, “Duane Hopwood”), a moronic snake named Larry (Richard Kind, “The Producers”), a wisecracking squirrel named Benny (Jim Belushi, TV’s “According to Jim”), and an even wisercracking koala named Nigel (Eddie Izzard, “Ocean’s Twelve”). Does any of that sound familiar?
During their journey this haphazard group of animals comes across some sewer crocodiles in the underworld of Manhattan. In a scene that has the potential to be both suspenseful and humorous the filmmakers turn these guido gators into a simple joke of “this way is quicker,” “No, that way is quicker.” Jokes are compromised in order to further the plot, rather than the plot supporting the jokes.
Soon the animals have somehow piloted a tugboat to the titular wild, where upon the fate of Ryan leads them into the den of a clan of wildebeests that have decided to take the throne of “kings of the jungle” by becoming carnivores. Once again the filmmakers squander some of their best resources by not offering the two primary wildebeests more screen time. William Shatner (“The Practice”) chews as much verbal scenery as he can as the insane leader of the carnivorous vegetarians, while Patrick Warburton (“Kronk’s New Groove”) provides his typical voice over gold as the clan’s choreographer. Monty Python’s Eric Idle also provides a humorous wildebeest song. It is too bad they didn’t use this trio for the lead characters.
“The Wild” plays like a string of missed opportunities. I have nothing against Sutherland or the other voice talents utilized here, but other animated features have been able to capitalize upon the comedic talents of its vocal artists in a way that this feature doesn’t (except with its villains). It is as if everyone on this ship was so worried about getting there they forgot to enjoy the journey, and isn’t the journey more important than the destination when you are just trying to be wild?