There’s something very familiar—and very unfunny—about Disney’s The Wild.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Hollywood’s creative apocalypse may be upon us now for I have never seen a film so blatantly like another as The Wild is like last year’s Madagascar. Legal professors could stand these two flicks side-by-side to demonstrate the concept of “points of similarity” that help determine whether a work has been plagiarized. From very large ideas (a gang of animals from a fantasy version New York’s Central Park Zoo escape into the untamed streets of Manhattan and later find themselves in the even more untamed jungles of Africa) to small details (the zoo’s star-attraction lion thrills crowds with his roar; a boat driven by animals runs aground upon a sandy beach), there are too many points of convergence for this to be mere coincidence. It’s shocking that anyone, even in Hollywood, thought to attempt such brazenness.
While the stunning parallels between the two films might actually verge on the actionable, the real crime The Wild commits is that it’s incomparably dull. Yet another retread of what has become the standard Disney story of late, this is Finding Nemo with lions. Instead of a puny, lame fin, lion cub Ryan (the voice of Greg Cipes) has a “roar” that’s a laughable squeak, and his overprotective father Samson (Kiefer Sutherland) must go after his son when the cub escapes from the zoo in search of untamed places where he can work on his roar.
Yup, The Wild also has shades of The Lion King, too. And don’t think there won’t be a reference to that once Samson and his animal pals find themselves in the curiously empty streets of Manhattan and get a ride through Times Square, right past where the stage musical version of that Disney flick is playing. It won’t be a funny reference, though. As with many other attempts at humor here, it appears that the filmmakers believed that merely mentioning something New York-ish would be amusing. The running allusion (it can hardly be called a joke) to the Statue of Liberty through the first half of the film has a curiously forced quality to it, as if simple repetition would somehow make it amusing. It results in a dead-eyed soullessness—where Madagascar truly captured the essence of New York and New Yorkers, The Wild can’t seem to get a grip on it. Even the one moment that comes closest—when Samson and his gang run into a couple of real New Yorkers who argue genially with each other about the best way to travel to a particular destination in the city—falls flat and feels phony.
And Samson’s friends? Why cast recognizable voices full of personality of their own if you’re not going to take advantage of them? Janeane Garofalo is unrecognizable in the character of Bridget, a giraffe who’s meant to be snarky but is just sort of blandly whiny. Eddie Izzard all but disappears as the voice of Nigel the koala bear, until a brief moment late in the film when the writers shamelessly appropriate one of Izzard’s own jokes for Nigel. Even William Shatner and Patrick Warburton are sadly given very little opportunity to show off as a pair of contentious wildebeests on the African island where the plot rather ridiculously migrates.
The humor is crude and juvenile (a squirrel gets stuck up a lion’s nostril!), the sentiment is goopy, and there’s a sappy ballad on the soundtrack to endure. But if you can get past the scene in which a starving Samson, who at this point has not eaten in three days, doesn’t even unconsciously and unwillingly see his pals as Meat, Alex-the-lion-in-Madagascar-style…well then, you’re a bigger animation fan than I am.
THE WILD ( ½ )
Directed by Steve “Spaz” Williams. Starring the voices of Kiefer Sutherland, Janeane Garofalo and Eddie Izzard. (G, 94 min.) At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.