"I have to find my son, and I don't have a lot of time!"
– Jack Bau . . . um, Samson
Hollywood has a habit of producing similar-themed movies. Some attribute this to coincidence -- similar ideas crop up at the same time. Others say it's that one studio passes on an idea, then decides to rework it to what they think is a better idea. And some say it's just theft and a race to see who can hit the box office first. The two biggest examples I can think of are Armageddon/Deep Impact and Volcano/Dante's Peak. This is the case with Disney's latest CGI family flick, The Wild.
There was a movie by Dreamworks last summer called Madagascar. In it, a group of zoo animals make a break for the wilds of Africa. The Wild, strangely enough, also features a group of zoo residents who also make their way back to the jungle. Now, I never saw Madagascar, so I can't say if The Wild is a rip-off of the premise or not. What I can tell you is that if they did rip it off, I'm glad I didn't see Madagascar, because The Wild is pretty darn mild.
The movie is another father and son bonding flick, between Samson (Kiefer "RUNNING OUT OF TIME!" Sutherland) and his cub Ryan (Greg "Teen Titans' Beast Boy" Cipes). They both live in the NY Zoo, and Sam regales his son with stories of when he lived in "The Wild", hunting and fighting, while he's trying to teach Ryan to find his roar. Ryan is frustrated that all he can manage is a pretty weak kitty yowl compared to dad's MIGHTY ROAR!
While Ryan sulks in a tree, Samson and his gang of rag-tag misfit friends go compete in a curling match against penguins. Yes, I said curling. Anyway, Samson's buddies are Benny the squirrel (Jim "According to Jim" Belushi) who has a crush on Bridget the giraffe (Janeane "Mystery Men" Garofalo). The rest of the gang is rounded out by Larry the dim-witted python (Richard "A Bug's Life" Kind) and Nigel the British Koala (Eddie "Mystery Men" Izzard). While the gang competes, Ryan accidentally starts a stampede of gazelles, costing the gang the game.
In a funk, Ryan decides to run away, hiding in the "green boxes" that go back to The Wild. When Samson finds out, he and the gang head on a madcap adventure to rescue the cub, and learn valuable life lessons. Samson is like a secret agent, leading a band of experts and he only has 24 hours to RESCUE HIS SON! Well, except that his gang of misfits are only experts at getting into trouble, and Samson's not much of a leader.
Now, the previews made it look like most of the movie takes place in NYC as these fish out of water make their way in the urban jungle. But they only spend about a quarter of the flick in the city, and actually do make it back to the jungle. There, they run into the real villain of the piece, a crazed wildebeest named Kazar (William "KHAAAAAAN!!!!" Shatner). He's a prophet, madma . . . beast, and choreographer. He and his herd, lead by Blag (Patrick "The Tick" Warburton), have a scheme to reverse the order of the food chain, with Samson and Ryan as key pieces.
So, as the movie goes on we get pretty lame gags, a good chunk of which involve bodily functions and various critters getting bonked around, odd tangents, the occasional witty moment, revealed secrets, family bonding, singing and dancing, all leading to a climax where one hero has to overcome a childhood fear to save the day.
Most of the gags are weak. Kiefer's acting is uneven, and he tends to lapse into his Jack Bauer "IhavetotalkreallyfastbecauseI'mintense, and then SHOUT OUT THE LAST BIT!!!" acting style. There are a few scenes where he's actually really good, but not enough of them. The story is also very jumpy, and feels like several episodes of a TV show that have been strung together.
There's a huge amount of crass product placement when the gang hits Times Square, including the front entrance for Disney's The Lion King Broadway show. If it had been only that, it would have been a cute touch, but it's tossed on top of Toys R Us ads, soda ads and others. Still, I shouldn't expect much subtly from any movie directed by a guy named "Spaz" who relies on crotch shots for humor.
The only really good parts are Eddie Izzard's Nigel, who's actually very amusing through most of the movie, and he has most of the best lines. The animation's pretty spiffy as well, but these days that's a given. I like how they play with the Disney logo at the very beginning of the movie. They also show us one of Samson's stories, and it looks like old-fashioned painted animation, very stylized and cool. Too bad the whole movie couldn't have been made like that.
The Wild isn't a travesty on the level of Son of the Mask, but is nowhere near Shrek. It won't do anything for most adults, but it should entertain the younger set. Especially those that like animals, or like seeing an animal take a shot to the groin.