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You Have Been Warned

There are two things you need to know about this movie immediately: 1) It is a computer-generated cartoon directed by a man credited as Steve “Spaz” Williams whose previous movie work is confined almost exclusively to visual effects. 2) Its story is a hideous stew of ingredients stolen brazenly from Finding Nemo, Madagascar rounded out with the various tired cliches of its genre. Anything that smacks of originality also stinks of the kind of thing other animated movies wouldn’t stoop to include.

The Wild (as I’ve already kind of told you) is about a ragtag group of zoo animals led by Samson the lion (Kiefer Sutherland) that breaks out of the New York City zoo to rescue Samson’s son Ryan, who has been mistakenly loaded on board a ship headed for the jungle. This well-worn story seems all the more overdone when weighed down with the standard Disney plot accoutrement of the single-parent family. (What’s with that, anyway?) Along the way they mingle with a menagerie of different species representing the full spectrum of offensive racial stereotypes.

The prize goes to the Arab pigeon, a wild-eyed idiot with a gambling habit. However, the icing on the cake has to be the tropical island dung beetles done out in full Swedish yodeling-polka-singer regalia complete with lederhosen and golden braids. The sight brought a single stunned query to my lips, but since this is a review of a kid movie I’ll refrain from repeating it.

The movie’s subplots are a tad disturbing as well, the most prominent of these being the attempts of Benny the squirrel (James Belushi) to win the love of Bridget the giraffe (Janeane Garofalo). If they can’t keep it inter-species, can’t they at least stick to romances between vaguely compatible species? There is also a herd of wildebeests intent on becoming carnivores, but I guess that’s more weird and, I dunno, impossible than truly disturbing. But did I mention that William Shatner voices the fanatical leader of the wildebeests? Yup. And Eddie Izzard is the show-stealing koala bear/comic relief (I say show-stealing because this movie’s few fans seem to be fans because of his character, not because I myself was vastly entertained by him).

So, if the plot and characters fail so spectacularly, how are the visuals? Problematic to say the least. First, the animals are spectacularly realistic. They look so real, in fact, that they just aren’t funny. This is a cartoon that has a hard time feeling like a cartoon because its characters lack stylization, and therefore they lack . . . well, character. Meanwhile, the environments that these hyper-realistic, high-quality cartoon animals stroll around in are just plain lousy. I have never seen such total incongruity in an animated feature. It is literally as if the environments were designed and rendered by a completely different team on Big Idea’s software (the Veggie Tales people, in case you wondered). This effect is so jarring that, more than once, the animals appear to be performing on a sound stage, complete with static, painted backdrop and plastic props. Tacky.

The humor feels the same way. The best animated movies manage to keep people of all ages entertained with a smorgasboard of cartoon action, clever concepts, and wise-apple humor aimed just over the kiddies’ heads. Having run through the first on auto-pilot and skipped the second, The Wild attempts at the third are beyond contrived. The effect produced resembles attending a children’s puppet show where the puppets occasionally go limp and lifeless and the puppeteer’s head emerges from behind the curtain as he breaks character completely to fire off a smart remark at the adults in the audience.

In conclusion, this is an inferior effort on all fronts. Should have been aborted. Should be avoided.

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~ by Jared on January 5, 2007.

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