Obvious plot similarities to Dreamworks animated kid’s movie Madagascar haunts this superior Disney produced CG animated story about a group of New York Zoo animals that go for an unexpected boat trip to an African jungle. Samson the lion (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland), has convinced his lion cub son Ryan (Greg Cipes) and the rest of the zoo animals of his mythic experiences in the wild.
The king of the zoo wears his mighty roar like a badge of honor that little Ryan can barely hope to emulate with his slight whimper of a howl. When the forlorn Ryan steals away from the zoo in a shipping container, Samson and his best friend, a squirrel named Benny (Jim Belushi), are joined by Nigel the koala bear, Bridget the giraffe, and Larry the goofy anaconda to rescue Ryan from the wilds of Africa.
The animation for The Wild has a more intricate look than Madagascar thanks to director Steve “Spaz” Williams’ CG process that he developed working on films like The Mask, The Abyss, Jurassic Park, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. However, it’s the unique chemistry of vocal performances by Kiefer Sutherland, Greg Cipes, Jim Belushi, Eddie Izzard (Nigel), Janeane Garofalo (Bridget), Richard Kind (Larry), and William Shatner (as a bloodthirsty wildebeest) that harmonizes the movie. Where Madagascar suffered from vocal interpretations that frequently clashed, The Wild carries a dulcet and dynamic harmony that plays like a well-practiced orchestra.
Izzard brings an understated nuance and flair to his role as Nigel the egocentric British koala bear. Much of the plot turns on Nigel’s character when he is adopted by a tribe of African wildebeests who believe him to be a deity due to the stuffed koala they have previously been praying to. The strained relationship between Samson and Ryan resonates with an unresolved romantic connection between Bridget the giraffe and her romantic admirer Benny the squirrel.
Bridget disdains Benny because of his petite size, but that doesn’t prevent the little guy from trying his heart out to win her over. In the same way that Ryan seeks respect from his father for his effort to roar like a big lion, so too does Benny crave props for his sincere affection and loyalty toward Bridget.
Belushi creates a perfectly transparent vocal character for Benny that zings with just the right pitch of emotional investment and youthful exuberance. For her part, Garofalo practically sings Bridget’s voice and outlines her character’s condescension that eventually turns a bit warmer toward Benny.
The Wild carries Madagascar’s themes of animals “going wild” and a lion releasing his pent-up primal roar to get in touch with his true nature. And yet, there’s more emotional closeness and paternal significance attached to the animal characters here. Even the music, scored by Alan Silvestri (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), contributes to the aural textures of the story better than Madagascar’s sometimes jarring score did. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Eric Idle, Lifehouse, Coldplay and Everlife contribute songs that nestle into the movie rather than calling inordinate attention to themselves.
The Wild is a visually arresting and thematically inspired animated movie that shuns the typical kiddie toilet humor of the genre. It’s a children’s movie that should stand up well to many a repeated viewing. MTW