We're going to play a little game. Everybody likes games. I call this game "The Monumental Hollywood Coincidence." The idea is to name at least two movies of virtually the same material produced within a year or so of each other. I'll give you a start: "A Bug's Life" and "Antz" in 1998. Another suggestion? OK, "Madagascar" and "The Wild" in 2005-2006. You can list your own "Monumental Coincidences" in the Reader Comments.
Did I mention that Disney's CGI-animated "The Wild" is a lot like "Madagascar"? Oh. Well, it is. And it's like "The Lion King" and "Finding Nemo," too. So thank goodness Disney acquired Pixar to help save them from any more pale imitations. To give you a better example of what I mean, "The Wild" earned about $37,000,000 at the box office in 2006, probably not as much money as it cost to make, advertise, and distribute it. During roughly the same period, Pixar's "Cars" earned over $240,000,000. Not that box office should dictate policy, but sometimes, as in this case, the public knows best.
All that said, "The Wild" is not really bad; it's just tired. It's rather a disappointment in that although it features some gorgeous CGI animation and a host of colorful voice characterizations, the script is derivative and lackluster. In other words, the movie may be nice to look at, but it's deadly dull to sit through, at least from an adult's point of view. Youngsters who haven't seen "Madagascar," both of them, may like the newer film's characters, color, and activity enough to carry them through it; I have no idea.
See if this doesn't sound familiar: The initial setting is the New York City Zoo, and the main character is a lion, Samson (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland). He's trying to be a good father to his son, Ryan (Greg Cipes), telling him stories of how as a child he survived in the wild. But we can see from the outset that Samson has never really been in the wild in his life. We can also see what's going to happen next. The animals come out at night, when all the people have gone, and party and play. And the penguins are the tough guys. We also see that Ryan is a typical youngster who has problems relating to his dad, the king of the jungle, er, zoo, and his dad has trouble relating to him; Ryan feels neglected and unwanted despite his father's best intentions, and Samson feels frustrated. So, what else is there for Ryan to do but want to run away, and in doing so he inadvertently gets shipped off to Africa (it's complicated and highly unlikely, so don't ask).
As we would expect, during the young lion's depression, things get fairly syrupy fairly fast, especially with all the sappy music playing in the background; and as the movie goes on, things eventually wind up fairly moralistic, too, as we would also expect from any recent Disney feature cartoon. Naturally, Samson and his zoo friends go off in hot pursuit of the boy, with the rest of the picture following their adventures in the downtown city, across the Atlantic, and into the most scenic parts of Africa.
The characters are well cast, but like the rest of the movie, they are more than a little familiar. Kiefer Sutherland has a highly expressive voice, yet it never reminded me of a fatherly lion's voice. I kept wondering if maybe his own father, Donald Sutherland, might not have been a better fit. Benny (James Belushi) is Samson's best friend, a streetwise squirrel with a crush on a giraffe. He's the smart-talking critter we can depend on for quick thinking. Nigel (Eddie Izzard) is a funnier character, though, a smart-aleck koala "from the streets of London." We depend on him for most of the film's biggest laughs, although, to be honest, the laughs are more the result of Izzard's delivery than anything he actually says. Next is Bridget (Janeane Garofalo), a sweet giraffe and the object of the squirrel's affections. OK, that relationship in itself is a cute gimmick. Then there's Larry (Richard Kind), a well-meaning but slow-witted anaconda; and, finally, Kazar (William Shatner), a power-mad wildebeest with a few humorous bits to add to the picture: "A good chorus line is hard to put together" and "Top o' the food chain, ma, top o' the food chain!"
In addition, there are a couple of clever alligators in the city sewers and a pack of slick chameleons later on, but their scenes, too, are brief and passing moments.
First-time director Steve "Spaz" Williams put the film together in an efficient rather than inspired manner, and it's evident that his previous work was mostly in visual effects ("The Mask," "Jurassic Park," "T2," "Spawn"). The CGI graphics are sumptuous, beautifully detailed, the characters looking like stuffed animals, to be sure, but very detailed, very realistic stuffed animals. In his favor, Williams keeps the action moving at a healthy clip; it's just that so much of it is so routine that we hardly care. He also uses quite a lot of music, mostly background score but some of it sung by the animals themselves (remember, this is a Disney film, after all). The trouble here is that, like everything else, the music is also mundane and tries too hard to sound hip and contemporary.
So, why doesn't anybody in the big city notice a lion and a giraffe traipsing around town? Why is the father-son relationship so reminiscent of "The Lion King"? Why is the hunt for the young son so similar to "Finding Nemo"? And why are the scenes in Africa so reminiscent of "Madagascar"? I mean, I don't know how this film could look any more like "Madagascar" without its being retitled "Madagascar."
With all the money that went into the film's scrumptious CGI appearance and its many unique voice talents, I wonder why nobody thought to put a few more bucks into the script. I found a good deal of "The Wild" visually appealing but even more of it narratively dry. Well, thank goodness for "Cars."
In keeping with the first-rate CGI animation, Disney's picture quality is equally splendid. The engineers do up the movie in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, transferred to disc at a high bit rate with intense black levels to ensure a sharp image, solid colors, and extra-fine definition, possibly as good as you'll find short of HD. Much of the film takes place at night or in the deep jungle, yet the picture remains remarkably natural and clear.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio puts enough information into the front and rear channels to make one's viewing experience an exciting aural experience as well. While we don't get the most forceful bass possible or the strongest dynamic impact, we do get a soundtrack that never intrudes on or overwhelms the movie's story line and characters but rather subtly reinforces the mood and the circumstances. This is good, modern sound that enmeshes us in the film and makes us feel a part of it.
There appear to be more extras on the disc than there really are. The few things that Disney offer are either very brief or very dreary. There are, for instance, about four minutes of deleted scenes, but they are unfinished rough cuts. There is a music video, "Real Wild Child," performed by Everlife that I found noisy and irksome. And there are featurettes with two of the stars, "Eddie Izzard Unleashed" and "Colin: The Rock Hyrax" (Colin Cunningham), each featurette lasting about two or three minutes.
Beyond these items, you'll find twenty scene selections, and a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at eight other Disney and Pixar titles; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English captions for the hearing impaired; Disney's suspect "Fast Play"; and a bright, handsome, embossed slipcover for the DVD case.
Children might find "The Wild" entertaining and morally uplifting, and adults might find the animation and sound enjoyable. However, I wish I could say the movie's story and characters were up to my own liking; but, alas, they make for a pretty humdrum affair that not even the movie's many fine voice talents can save.