It's a shame that the makers of "Born to Be Wild" went to such great lengths to create an absolutely convincing gorilla via technical wizardry only to waste their efforts on such a trite, predictable comedy-adventure. Both Katie the Gorilla--the creation of special animatronics effects expert Tony Gardner--and young Wil Horneff, who are the film's endearing stars, and its serious animal-rights theme, deserve much better.
Horneff's Rick is a troubled 14-year-old who bonds with Katie, who has learned to sign from Rick's mother, a UC Berkeley behavioral scientist. John Bunzel and Paul Young's script misfires quickly when we learn that the proprietor of a local indoor flea market (Peter Boyle, pure Simon Legree) is the true owner of Katie and now reclaims his property, her caged predecessor on his premises having died of despair.
It defies credibility that the University of California would enter such an arrangement in the first place, that it doesn't have funds to purchase Katie outright (even in these admittedly straitened times), and that it wouldn't resort to the media to plead its case on Katie's behalf.
At any rate, this turn of events allows Rick to denounce his single mother for failing both to fight for her marriage and for Katie--and then to take flight with Katie for the Canadian border, where he hopes to get help from John C. McGinley's eccentric Vietnam War draft resister.
Nothing that happens along the way is in the least bit inspired, and director John Gray wastes no opportunity to emphasize the obvious, which is further underlined by Mark Snow's loud, syrupy score, dousing the film like fudge on a sundae. This is an awfully dull picture to be called "Born to Be Wild."
* MPAA rating: PG, for mild language. Times guidelines: Although the film is most likely to appeal to children, the very young may be disturbed by brief scenes of maltreatment of the gorilla. 'Born to Be Wild'
Wil Horneff: Rick Heller
Helen Shaver: Margaret Heller
John McGinley: Max Carr
Peter Boyle: Gus Charnley
A Warner Bros. presentation in association with Fuji Entertainment of an Outlaw production. Director John Gray. Producers Robert Newmyer & Jeffrey Silver. Executive producer Brian Reilly. Screenplay by John Bunzel and Paul Young; from a story by Young. Cinematographer Donald M. Morgan. Film editor Maryann Brandon. Costumes Ingrid Ferrin. Music Mark Snow. Production designer Roy Forge Smith. Special animatronic effects Tony Gardner. Primate consultant Dr. Roger Fouts. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.