You will not find a worse movie in Walt Disney's animated canon than The Wild. At the very least, the hyperactive abomination helps us understand why the once-mighty studio shelled out $7.4 billion to acquire Pixar Animation Studios earlier this year. Pixar is a proven hit factory, an imagination emporium responsible for the lucrative Toy Story adventures and the Oscar-winning superhero smash The Incredibles. If The Wild represents all that remains in Disney's think tank, it's now painfully clear that the Mouse House needs Pixar like a table needs legs.
Wild is a high-impact cartoon, the kind that catapults its characters head first into rocks, trees, and other animal's rear ends every time we expect a joke but are met with silence. Like its immediate predecessor, Chicken Little, this meaningless cartoon assumes kids will roar their approval so long as things move extremely fast, crash with teeth-shattering force, and pass gas. Parents lose twice - they must pay hard-earned cash to enter and then endure 90 minutes of noise.
Let's address the Madagascar comparisons. Wild is surprisingly similar to Dreamworks' Oscar-nominated hit from last summer. Both begin in the New York Zoo and feature a lion who must follow a second character off Manhattan and onto a boat bound for Africa. Once in the jungle, the lion faces frightening truths about himself that must be conquered before he's able to return home.
Repetition shouldn't destroy Wild's chances. Years ago, two studios released conflicting asteroid movies within months of each other - Armageddon and Deep Impact. And while the films had similar plot devices, they each took their concepts to diverse destinations.
Aside from the obvious setups, Madagascar and Wild are totally different beasts. The former is very funny, and the latter is not. Kiefer Sutherland voices the "mane" character, a proud father named Samson whose son, Ryan (Greg Cipes), can't roar. Sutherland's a trendy pick, though it's impossible to not think of 24 super agent Jack Bauer whenever Samson shouts, "We need to have that truck followed" in the actor's familiar raspy roar. He's joined in the voiceover booth by James Belushi, Janeane Garofalo and Eddie Izzard. The three prove that hiring funny people does not guarantee a laugh.
Wild director Steve Williams goes by the nickname "Spaz," which tells you a lot about this entirely spastic and utterly moronic atrocity. A traditional animated fantasy sequence opens the film before giving way to Williams' chosen animatronic style. His computer-generated characters deserve credit. He chooses a life-like approach, so Samson looks meaty, the island backgrounds appear lush, and the streets of New York light up like... well, like Times Square.
Applying Williams' notable animation to the movie's script, though, is like putting expensive make-up on a corpse. There isn't one clever joke to be found in the screenplay, credited to Mark Gibson and Philip Halprin. They embrace crass toilet plunges, which somehow have become the norm in children's entertainment. Wild hangs its hat on a koala bear (Izzard) who picks his nose and soils himself, though not in the same scene. His best joke is probably, "Can I use your toilet?" Granted, he doesn't have too many good lines to choose from.
The rest of the film follows the staid formula that has doomed non-Pixar products for years. There's a mope-pop soundtrack populated by Coldplay and the like that's mildly motivational and immediately forgettable. Gibson and Halprin pull character names from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. Animal heroes are named Ryan, Larry, Bridget, and Nigel - names you'd expect to see on the RSVP list for afternoon tea. Well, not Larry.
Timing is everything, and Wild can't catch a break. Even the recent Ice Age sequel beats it to the punch on a major storyline. Izzard's koala bear ends up being worshipped by a native tribe of wildebeests, which calls to mind Sid the Sloth's similar encounter. Don't recall that scene? Do yourself a favor. Pay for Ice Age instead this weekend and refresh your memory.
Sloth: Get in my bely.