It’s rare to see Disney accused of ripping off a DreamWorks picture, but that’s what happened in the case of The Wild, released a year after the well-received Madagascar. Both cartoons feature zoo animals uprooted from their sheltered lives and forced to adapt to life in the wild, but where DreamWorks’ effort told the story with wit and charm, The Wild is mostly a slog due to uninspired casting, weak writing, and dull character design.
I guess it’s unfair to call this a Disney movie, since it was actually made by C.O.R.E. Feature Animation. But by distributing the picture under their Buena Vista Pictures label, Disney made sure their name was attached to the project. And it hardly seems worthy of a brand that prides itself on quality feature animation.
The problems begin with the casting. Kiefer Sutherland, Eddie Izzard, Jim Belushi, and Janeane Garofalo are all skilled actors whose work I often enjoy. But with the exception of Izzard, they aren’t exactly larger than life, a quality that’s crucial for voice acting. Some of that can be fixed by the director; Tom Hanks and Tim Allen knew they had to deliver heightened, exaggerated versions of their normal voices while acting in the Toy Story films. But here, the actors are mostly speaking in a flat tone that sticks the animators with sole responsibility for making the characters stand out.
Which brings us to problem number two: The characters just aren’t interesting to look at. It seems like the orders from director Steve Williams were to make them look like realistic animals, which creates an Uncanny Valley effect when they talk (Disney would fail to remember this lesson when they remade The Lion King years later).
With the combined issues of casting and animation, the only avenue left is to tell a fun, compelling story. Like I mentioned earlier, the plot of The Wild is mostly a rehash of Madagascar, with some familial strife added as the lion played by Sutherland struggles to bond with his young son while attempting to return home to the zoo. The movie’s twist, if it can be called one, is that despite talking a big game about being born in the wild, Sutherland’s character is actually a circus lion who was sent to the zoo because he couldn’t roar. This fails to add any interest to the proceedings.
The movie’s lone bright spot is the performance of professional comedian Izzard as a neurotic koala. Izzard mostly sticks to her stand-up persona and delivers absurd lines in a wonderfully droll tone. A subplot where the koala is mistaken for a god by a herd of wildebeests generates most of the movie’s meager laughs.
I highly recommend skipping this one.