Disney's "The Wild," a computer-animated comedy about a bunch of zoo animals who travel from New York to the other side of the Atlantic, has the misfortune to reach the screen almost a year after DreamWorks used precisely the same plot to drive its own "Madagascar."
But even if "The Wild" had arrived first, it'd still be disappointing. It just wouldn't feel quite so derivative.
Directed by Toronto effects artist Spaz Williams and animated primarily by the capable staff of C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures, "The Wild" is a visual feast, with a glorious production design and a cast of anthropomorphic characters who, for all their humanized features, seem almost photo-realistic.
Right from the stylized opening sequence -- which not-so-subtly spoofs "The Lion King" -- it's clear the animators have talent to spare. What they don't have is any sense of control.
"The Wild" is a marvelous achievement in computer animation, but it's dead on arrival as a movie. Nothing lines up; the story points seem almost randomly assembled rather than organized according to logical or emotional beats. There's no sense of pace or tone -- everything just slaps against everything else.
The characters are gorgeously realized, but they're not interesting or entertaining in the slightest, with one characteristic apiece: Kiefer Sutherland's Samson the lion is a devoted father; Richard Kind's Larry the anaconda is an idiot; Janeane Garofalo's Bridget the giraffe is a skeptic; Jim Belushi's Bernie the squirrel is in love with Bridget; Eddie Izzard's Nigel the koala is an arrogant coward. (OK, that's two traits, but I'm pretty sure Izzard injected the arrogance himself.)
When Samson's young son sets out for Africa in a huff, Samson follows with his friends in tow, and Williams throws everything he can at the screen -- pointless chase sequences, a shabby moral lesson about not lying to your kid, a big musical number that sort of runs out of gas halfway through, and so on. William Shatner puts in a great cameo towards the end as a demented wildebeest, though. Of course, he's also a part-owner of C.O.R.E., so his being the most memorable thing about "The Wild" was kind of a given.
Walt Disney's enhanced-widescreen DVD is really quite skimpy on the extras; there are five deleted scenes in various stages of completion, a music video for Everlife's cover of "Real Wild Child", and two brief production featurettes about the voices behind the critters -- one focusing on Eddie Izzard's improvisational acrobatics, the other a mock look at C.O.R.E. staffer Colin Cunningham, who provides the voice of an incidental character. Neither runs longer than four minutes, but then you wouldn't really want them to go on any longer.
STUDIO: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: September 12, 2006
TIME: 82 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: French and Spanish audio dubs; deleted scenes; production featurettes; music video.