Toon Talk: The Wild
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by Kirby C. Holt
A Walt Disney Pictures Release of a
Hoytyboy Pictures Production
MPAA Rating: G
Out of Africa
2006 is shaping up to be the year of the computer animated comedy. Already this year we've had Hoodwinked and Ice Age: The Meltdown, but they were just the beginning. As witnessed by the coming attractions at a recent visit to my neighborhood cineplex, no less then six big screen CGI flicks (all heavily touting their celebrity voice casts) will debut within the next year, with nary a pencil drawing or jointed puppet in the bunch.
Somewhat lost in that shuffle is Disney's latest release, The Wild. Directed by Steve "Spazâ€? Williams (best known for that annoying series of Blockbuster Video commercials starring a rabbit and guinea pig) for his Hoytyboy Pictures, the new movie (now in theaters) has received minimal advance coverage, including no scheduled premiere, a noticeable lack of merchandising and, never a good sign, no advance screenings. To those who follow the film industry, these all point to a discernable lack of faith in the product at hand by the releasing studio, meriting a contractually obligated token theatrical release prior to a fast track to the less-discerning home video market.
With that in mind, one would assume that the film in question is more "mildâ€? then "wildâ€?, and for the most part you would be correct. Heavily derivative of two of Disney's biggest blockbusters (The Lion King, Finding Nemo) and with more then a passing resemblance to DreamWorks' Madagascar of last year (to be fair, both films were in production at the same time), The Wild actually most closely resembles in content and execution another second tier animation house's attempt at the big leagues, last year's Valiant, produced by Vanguard Animation and also released by Disney. What is most disturbing about this trend (which, one hopes, will not continue under the forthcoming - and eagerly awaited - John Lassiter-led feature animation department at Disney's in-house studio) is the association of the once valued Disney name with such mediocre material. After all, the general public knows not of distribution deals, just that the big "Dâ€? is on all the posters.
Like Madagascar, The Wild begins in a New York City zoo populated by overly-civilized animals perfectly at home in their fabricated surroundings. When the gates close at night, the beasts come out to play, led by star attraction Samson "the Wildâ€? (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland), a lion so called due to his legendary exploits back in the wilds of Africa. Joining him in their nocturnal festivities are his unlikely best pal Benny (According to Jim's Jim Belushi), a streetwise squirrel who has the hots for gal giraffe Bridget (Janeane Garofalo), Larry (A Bug's Life's Richard Kind), a dim-witted boa constrictor, and Nigel (Eddie Izzard), a kola bear cursed by the cuddliness that has made his stuffed animal likeness a merchandising sensation. Notably absent from the fun is Ryan (what kind of name is that for a lion?), Samson's restless son (voiced by Greg Cipes) who has not yet found his roar and, inspired by his dad's vivid stories of his adventurous life on the savannah, yearns to get a taste of the real wild.
Like Nemo, father and son have an argument, sending son off to hitch a ride on a boat back to Africa, with his dad (zoo crew in tow) in hot pursuit. They end up on a jungle island just hours away from destruction by a lava-spewing volcano. Father and son are reunited, but not before the true nature of Samson's past is revealed and they all end up trapped by a wild pack of wildebeests, under the maniacal leadership (and choreography) of Kazar (William Shatner, furthering his descent into outright self parody), who is attempting to push his herd up the food chain by forcing them to become carnivorous - and one guess who's first on their menu. Samson must find his inner king of the jungle, and reconcile with Ryan, in time to save them all from the blood-thirsty Kazar and escape from the doomed island and back to civilization.