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THE WILD LIFE (2016) review

September 8, 2016

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written by: Lee Christopher, Domonic Paris and Graham Weldon
produced by: Gina Gallo, Mimi Maynard, Domonic Paris, Ben Stassen & Caroline Van Iseghem
directed by: Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen
rated: PG (for mild action/peril and some rude humor)
runtime: 90 min.
U.S. release date: September 9, 2016

 

A Belgium-French 3D computer-animated feature called “Robinson Crusoe” released this past Spring is now getting dumped in the States and renamed as “The Wild Life”, since there’s no way Americans would go see an animated adaptation of a seldom-read literary classic. The works of English novelist Daniel Dafoe are far from required reading for today’s youngsters and based on this watered-down, kid-friendly version of the island-marooned castaway, the filmmakers felt no need to stay loyal to the source. Instead, we’re given a painfully dull and unfunny waste of time of a feature that parents will nevertheless bring their kids to see  – because, when it comes to “cartoons”, parents have proven to be lemmings, hoping their gape-mouthed offspring will be satiated anything animated.

To placate young viewers, “The Wild Life” is told from the point-of-view of a red macaw named Mak (David Howard), instead of the first-person approach Dafoe used. As the movie starts, mapmaker Robinson Crusoe (American voice-over actor, Yuri Lowenthal) thinks he’s being  rescued by a ship full of men he later unwittingly realizes are pirates. A pair of mice on board are running away from two of the mangiest cats you’ve ever seen, which is when they meet Mak and the bird, who had become Crusoe’s friend begins to tell the tale of how he and his animal pals met the human on their tiny South Pacific island.

 

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From here, the narrative structure crumbles – no, it doesn’t take long, does it? – because, although Mak is telling this story, we go back to when Crusoe was sailing aboard an immense ship that succumbs to a violent storm, leaving the awkward and gangly ginger-haired protagonist stranded with his dog Aynsley, on one half of what’s left of his ship. How can this bird no Crusoe’s story? He wasn’t there, plus we don’t even see Mak and Crusoe speak English with each other (even though all the animals speak the universal language with each other), so how can he tell this story? Am I thinking to hard on this? Sorry.

Mak lives on this island with a handful of animal friends that are designed to turn up the cute quotient of the movie. They had no effect on me, since they seemed recycled from just about every cutesy anthropomorphic movie within the last forty years, but then again I realize this is for the kiddos. Of the exotic species that inhabit the island, there is a tapir named Rosie (Laila Berzins) whose rotunda size gets a good ridicule (where her African-American cadence that border lines on racist – she’s got a big butt!), a spiny echidna aka anteater, named Epi (Sandy Fox), a cautious kingfisher named Kiki (Lindsay Torrance), an almost-blind goat named Scrubby (Joey Caman) and a disappearing Chameleon named Carmello (Colin Metzler). All of them seem content to laze about and eat an endless amount of bugs all day, yet Mak has long wondered if they are the only living beings in the world.

Obviously, he’s excited when Crusoe shipwrecks on the island and since no one on the island has ever laid their eyes on a human, they are all apprehensive toward this ugly creature. But as it becomes apparent that Crusoe is harmless and accident prone, Mak decides to take a chance and assist the island’s newest resident in crafting shelter and gather food. Soon the animals and Crusoe develop a working friendship when it’s evident to the animals that this human cannot survive without them. They assist Crusoe in building a tree house on the side of a cliff (probably not the best location for a tree house, but what do I know?) and a beacon to attract passing ships.

There has to be a villain in these movies though – after all, it can’t just be about a man surviving on his own and it definitely can’t have Dafoe’s take on Western superiority – less we forget the movie’s target demographic.  So, those two mangy cats (Debi Tinsley and Jeff Doucette) reappear and seek vengeance on Crusoe (don’t ask) . When one of the cats becomes pregnant and deliver a liter of mangy kittens – no joke! – the scraggly felines soon outnumber the heroes and the rest of the movie becomes one delirious action sequence after another.  Characters dangle off the edge of cliffs, are launched into the air, and/or careen down Crusoe’s rickety wooden waterslide, all in an effort to thwart those mangy cats, resulting in explosions and floating debris.  And that folks, is Classic Lit in 2016.

 

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Historical or Classic Lit animated adaptations have incorporated talking animals in the past, like in “Mr. Revere and I” and “Ben and Me,” to supposedly offer an iteration of the story that is easier for kids to grasp. It can rarely be sweet and endearing, but more often than not the animals wind up taking over the story, usually offering a cuter/smarter protagonist to follow. The problem here is that none of the characters in “The Wild Life” are worth following. They’re either dumb, bland or recycled stock types.

“The Wild Life” is produced by nWave, the Belgium animation studio where co-directors Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen have worked for years, churning out sub par kiddie fare like “Fly Me to the Moon” and the two “Turtle Tales” movies.  The animation in those films and in “The Wild Life” is always good, often employing the use of stereoscopic 3D for their look, it’s the characters and stories that wind up being uninspired or flat-out pedestrian, resulting in the movie being a painful slog to sit through.

With the amount of animated features that are released each year, there are bound to be duds. Remember “Norm of the North” from this past January? Didn’t think so. Not to say that the folks who work on these duds are untalented, it’s just the material is void of any originality or imagination. Unfunny and annoying, “The Wild Life” should be avoided at all costs – take your kids hiking instead and discover actual wild life.

 

 

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RATING: *

 

 

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