Consider this intriguing tidbit of cinematic trivia: Out of the top50 highest grossing films of all time, 10 of them have been animated.The top three in the moneymaking trifecta – Shrek 2, FindingNemo and The Lion King – have a combined gross of over twobillion dollars (USD). That’s certainly no laughing matter.
And with such tasty fruit just ripe for the picking, it’s no wonderstudios are falling over themselves to take a bite. Witness Disney’slatest entry, The Wild, which borrows heavily from the triplecrown of its CGI predecessors, proving, in this case, that imitation isindeed the most insulting form of flattery.
Ripped straight from the terrain of 2005′s Madagascar, TheWild takes place in the New York Zoo where the cuddly critters areliving large on three square meals a day and an audience of adoringhumans they hold court for. Kiefer Sutherland is the voice of Samson,a happily domesticated lion who must rescue his cub Ryan after heaccidentally stows away on a shipping crate bound for Africa.
The premise dives deep into Finding Nemo waters – but insteadof little Nemo’s bum fin, it’s little Ryan who can’t find his roar.Frustrated with his inability to live up to his father’s expectations,the young lion sets off on his own in an uncharacteristic, yetpredictable, flash of rebellion, only to be put in danger at the handsof faceless humans.
Accompanying Samson on his rescue mission to the motherland is hiswisecracking best friend, Benny the squirrel (Jim Belushi), a giraffenamed Bridget (Janeane Garofalo), Larry the snake (Richard Kind), and,inscrutably, a British koala named Nigel – played by Eddie Izzard.(Obviously Mel and Russell weren’t available.)
Chalk it up to Disney to include such an egregious case of culturalmisappropriation, but at least they remain consistent in their liberaluse of offensive stereotypes. Canada geese become scatterbrained, hoserCanadians (“no problem eh!”) Pigeons become head-bobbing South Asians,and alligators are transformed into tuff tawkin’ Noo-Yawk eye-talians.
Unlike films like Shrek and The Incredibles which comeembedded with a welcome layer of subtext for the adults, TheWild comes with nary a wink or a nod, relying heavily on loud,fast-paced hi-jinx with cute animals splatting against walls to providemaximum laughs for the kids. This is a crudely stitched togetherpatchwork quilt of a film, pillaged from the threadbare hand-me-downsof a string of ferociously successful offerings.
Journeys are taken, lessons are learned, friendships are forged,differences are set aside, and adventures of self-discovery are had.Both Samson and Ryan find their inner roar, learning they don’t need togo to Africa – it turns out, “the wild” is within them.
Putting the shockingly derivative plot aside, it should be notedthat The Wild is a technically excellent film. Animation hascome so far, it’s possible studios believe they can actually get awaywith substituting a solid script and excellent writing for technologyalone. And with graphics that are this superbly rendered, perhaps theycan. Watching the movement of each strand of fur on Samson’s mane isremarkable, and the facial movements of the animals are so perfectlymatched to voice, it’s actually a little off-putting. Yet technicalexcellence does not a movie make, and with plot characterizationsculled from a paint-by-numbers, crank-the-handle storyline, TheWild proves to be a tame, toothless affair.