Thursday, 16 March 2006

The Wild (2006)

The Wild will find it hard to avoid comparisons to Madagascar and Finding Nemo

I really want to watch The Wild when it opens in cinemas here. My usual plan (it works every time!) when it comes to watching animated movies is to bring my favourite nephew along. This time, however, it may be a challenge to persuade the little tyke. We were in the cinema watching the trailers last week, and he complained that The Wild looked like another Madagascar, and since he watched that one already, I should treat him to another animation instead. That was enough to start my tear ducts working in overdrive, and soon everyone in the cinema was either motioning for me to keep quiet or sympathetically passing tissues to the strange man.

Which is my little way of saying how disappointing the years since 1997 have been. Sure, we now have full-fledged animation studios at Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks SKG, but frequently, their products seem to remain just a little too similar to justify watching everything. This is a pity, especially if people like my nephew get put off watching a superior film because a similar cartoon was released last year.

Comparisons between the two animation projects will be inevitable (which is why I got them out first), but surprisingly, The Wild proves to be the superior product. For one thing, it is the rare Disney animation picture that young and adult audiences can feel equally at home with. Part of this comes from the decision not to make the focus of the movie on the CGI. This is a 3D movie, but it’s not the point of the movie (thankfully, since very few CGI masterpieces also had great storylines). The background and characters are competently done, but not to the point where every shimmering hair on the fur of the animals take your concentration away from what’s happening, or become the point of the entire movie.

Instead, the focus is placed squarely on the situational comedy and the witty dialogue between the characters. There are almost no fart jokes that will turn adults off, nor a barrage of references to pop culture themes that would be entirely lost on the younger audience. This is a relief, given the failure of Shark Tale, with its delusion that references are automatically funny just because they’re referencing something.

The first half of The Wild suffers from pacing and the Madagascar problem, but once the team of animals are in their element, the zaniness of the plot approaches originality. The carefully-built character traits of the team of animals pay off and hit comic gold by the second half when they are transplanted into the alien environment (which is supposed to be their natural element!) and chance upon the natives.

The voice talents of Eddie Izzard and William Shatner are perfect in their roles as Nigel, a cute koala stuck with and resentful of his cute status, and Kazar, the crazed and megalomaniacal leader of the native wildebeests. There’s an extended surreal sequence involving the 2 that is a stunning tribute to the superior skills of Disney’s scriptwriters and their understanding of what makes comedy, and a reminder that Nigel was originally written for Eric Idle of the Monty Python team. Idle more than makes up for his absence by contributing some excellent, hilarious and bizarre songs that must’ve inspired the animators in the sequences accompanying them.

I’d highly recommend The Wild to everyone. Made with just US$77 million, it is funnier, better animated, and has a stronger story than Madagascar. Even if it did take 1 script rewrite and 6 more months to produce.

First published at incinemas on 27 Apr 2006

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