The Wild Review
So there's this lion...and a zebra. No, not a zebra but there is a giraffe. And penguins. And there's a squirrel and a koala and they live in the zoo in New York, comfy with the regular supplies of food, with the adulation of the crowds and with their personal range of soft toys. But one of them dreams of the wild! Or remembers what it was like to be there when he fought wildebeest, the stories of which he loves to regale the other animals with. All that is left of those times is a distant memory of running free but which is now fading fast.
One night, when the lights have been extinguished and the park is empty of crowds, wardens and keepers, an animal escapes onto the streets of New York. There, with some intention of escaping the confines of the zoo, the animal is put into a crate, lifted aboard a container ship and is shipped off to Africa. But he won't be alone for long as a ragbag collection of beasts - a fully-grown lion, a giraffe, an anaconda, a squirrel and a koala bear - hit the road, head for the city and onwards to Africa. Yet danger awaits them, a species of animal who've long desired raising themselves up the foodchain a notch or two and who believe that sacrificing a big cat might just be the way to do it...
Is it possible to rush an animated film into production? Given the man hours involved in it, I suspect not but if that's the case, just how does The Wild manage to be as close to Madagascar as it is? I mean, this isn't just similar, it's almost identical. Identical to the extent that when Bridget the Giraffe (Janeane Garofalo) opens her mouth, you expect to hear the voice of David Schwimmer, as you do the voice of Ben Stiller when Samson the Lion speaks. In time, I found myself missing the crack unit of penguins who take control of a container ship and head south, the comedy double-act of Cedric The Entertainer and Sacha Baron Cohen, the sight of a jungle full of T-bone steaks and the pooh-flinging monkeys. In fact, I miss all of those things much more than I ever thought I would given how Madagascar was produced at the same studio as the dreadful Shark Tale, which may well linger at the bottom of the animated feature barrel as The Wild.
On that note, it's worth describing how The Wild works as a film. Or, as is more accurate, how it doesn't. Perhaps it's main failing, at least if you manage to look beyond its obvious and unimaginative similarity to Madagascar, is that with the exception of Eddie Izzard's koala Nigel, it really isn't at all funny. Kiefer Sutherland, who carries much of the film on his own, will be well known to anyone who's followed him through five increasingly unbelievable attacks on the United States in 24 but even they will have good cause to scratch their heads at his being cast in a comedy. The casting of Jim Belushi as Benny the street-smart Squirrel doesn't help - his love for Bridget the Giraffe is the unlikeliest and most unsuitable romantic pairing since an ill-advised viewing of one of the many features purporting to be Animal Farm - whilst Larry the Anaconda is the kind of really, really stupid character who might have seemed like a good idea in a story meeting but who wouldn't amuse a room full of six-year-olds high on Sunny D and Haribo. Indeed, so dry is this particular comedic desert that when a small green shoot appears, such as the casting of Patrick Warburton as Blag, we rejoice. However, this has very little to do with the lines that have been written for him in The Wild and much more to do one's memories of The Emperor's New Groove.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is noting how lazy this film is, much more so than any of their late-period traditionally-animated films like Treasure Planet or Brother Bear. Although, to be entirely honest, I would have cause to think twice were I offered a choice between this and The Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata. Perhaps it's simply the combination of a poor story and some awful writing. Perhaps it doesn't look sufficiently like an animated film in that it tries too hard to accurately reflect what the cast of animals actually look like rather than portraying them as caricatures. It might just be that it's a pre-Pixar-merger film that, with hindsight, indicates what was troubling Disney's creative freefalling. Whatever it is, The Wild is a patchy, unimpressive effort from a studio that, not four years ago, was producing the superb Lilo And Stitch and, a year earlier, Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The Pixar influence will have much to do to turn that studio around.
Regardless of what one might think of the film, The Wild looks very good indeed, with a clarity to the picture and a depth to the colours that's wholly impressive. Indeed, so effortless does this transfer look that all that one has to wonder about it is why it has been presented on DVD in 1.78:1 - does this reflect the direct-to-video origins of the film or was it matted to this aspect ratio for the home entertainment market - but this is a small issue when it otherwise looks as good as it does. The DD5.1 soundtrack is just as excellent, perhaps even better. From a rather anonymous-sounding beginning, it builds until it makes good and consistent use of all six speakers, particularly when the wildebeest carry Nigel into the body of an active volcano. However, as much as that might be the highlight, The Wild sounds good throughout with the quieter moments, such as the isolation in the jungle, sounding technically as good as the noise of the city and the volcano.
There isn't a good deal here, which might well reflect Disney's lack of interest in the film. It's also unlikely that there will be a further release of this film, which would mean that this sparse selection is all there will ever be. Beginning with a set of five Deleted Scenes (4m45s), which are presented in various stages of animation - some complete, others are little more than a succession of storyboards - and with a commentary from director Steve 'Spaz' Williams and producer Clint Goldman, there isn't anything here that would improve the film had they been included in the final cut. On the contrary, there's actually much in the main feature that would be better had it been cut and presented as a bonus feature. .
Of even less interest, and certainly of little appeal to children, are a music video - Real Wild Child by Everlife (3m30s) - and two behind-the-scenes features, Eddie Izzard Unleashed (3n30s) and Meet Colin: The Rock Hyrax (2m20s). Lord knows why anyone might have wanted to meet Colin Cunningham - I'd rather drill through my own testicles than share a room with him - but here he is alongside his long-suffering work colleagues.
Two movies in to Disney's much-trumpeted move to computer animated features and it's not looking like an entirely successful venture. Chicken Little and The Wild have both been disappointments, overlooking the storytelling simplicity that made Beauty And The Beast, The Lion King and Lilo And Stitch such successes in favour of gimmicks, in-jokes and parodies. As ever with Disney, one hopes that better films are yet to come but it now looks as though the move to computer animation was disguising an increasingly threadbare creativeness. When the most successful feature animation studio look to the makers of Shark Tale for inspiration, something is truly rotten in the state of Disney.