The Wild fails to excite

Posted: Apr 20, 2006 12:01 AM

If you build it, they will come. That’s the way most studios look at children and family films, which are by far the biggest moneymakers in the movie business.

But this weekend, despite the built-in cache of being a Disney project, The Wild took in only $9.7 million—a pretty poor showing for the computer animation genre, which typically sees opening grosses in the $40 to $70 million dollar range.

So give the parents (or maybe the kids) a little credit. Their tastes are more discriminating than industry execs realize, and they’re not about to plunk down 50-plus dollars to take the family out to see a sorry copy of a Dreamworks flick they already own on DVD.

If you’ve seen Madagascar, you know nearly the entire plot of The Wild. A gang of wisecracking animals from the New York zoo breaks free and follows one of their own to a jungle island. The only difference is that instead of chasing after his wayward zebra friend, the head lion chases after his wayward lion cub. And when they arrive, the furry friends are accosted not by a group of singing, dancing lemurs, but wildebeests, who mistake one of the crew for some kind of god.

Oh, well, and the voice work of the real life actors. That’s pretty different too. Whereas Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and Queen Latifa brought their characters to life with flair and originality, this crew feels more tedious than a bunch of housecats.

Keifer Sutherland’s sandpaper seriousness is perfect for the king of the jungle, but the rest of the cast, who are supposed to provide the comic relief, are as lazy and lifeless as zoo animals in June.

Garafalo delivers her lines with a bored sarcasm that suggests she thinks she’s too good for this project (actually…come to think of it, Garafalo delivers her lines this way in almost every film, so maybe it was nothing personal to The Wild.) And Richard Kind’s juvenile depiction of a lisping, mentally-challenged snake is an insult to the intelligence of even the tiniest toddlers, not one of whom did I hear laugh at his antics in my screening. Same goes for Jim Belushi’s love-struck squirrel who, for some inexplicable, almost creepy reason is head-over-heels for a giraffe.

The only characters to generate anything close to amusement are Nigel the cynical koala, serviceably played by Eddie Izzard, and Kazar (William Shatner) chief of the clan of cultish wildebeests determined to overcome their herbivore ways. Too bad Shatner’s perfect-for-animation persona is completely wasted in predictable plot turns, and neither actor is given enough screen time to make for the dullness that marks the rest of the film.

Computer-animated movies take considerable time and man power to make, so we should probably give Disney the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn’t intend to directly rip-off the earlier and far funnier Madagascar. It’s possible the Mouse House film was just a victim of bad timing.

However, for the tired script, lame jokes, and bad acting, they have only themselves to blame.