Family Movie Review: The Wild Life (PG)


Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG        Length: 90 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 6+. This animated film tells the story of how Robinson Crusoe arrived on a deserted island and came to befriend the local animals living there. A shipwreck and thunderstorm that may be frightening; a lovable character dies in an explosion; a few different vomiting scenes; various scary scenes involving fire; jokes about cannibals; a few different insults are used, like “idiot”; some sexually themed dialogue about a female character’s “curves”; pirate characters drink alcohol; a cat is pregnant and has a litter of kittens; and there is a violent fight toward the end of the film between various animals.

Almost completely unfunny and mostly uninspired, ‘The Wild Life’ coasts by on attractive visuals alone. Otherwise, this is a painful 90 minutes.

By Roxana Hadadi

TheWildLife 2 ChesapeakeFamily MovieReviewHow to get kids interested in Robinson Crusoe? “The Wild Life” tries to spin the story for a family audience by telling it from the point of view of Crusoe’s parrot and his other animal friends. But the story feels unfinished; the jokes are often tacky; and “The Wild Life” can’t leverage its moments of attractive animation into a worthwhile film.

The film focuses on the parrot Mak (voiced by David Howard Thornton), frustrated with his life on an isolated island. The place is beautiful—green, verdant, lush—but Mac wants to explore the outside world, to the confusion of his friends, including the no-nonsense fellow bird Kiki (voiced by Marieve Herington), sassy tapir Epi (Sandy Fox), and the vision-impaired goat Scrubby (voiced by Joey Camen). “Smell the papaya, for this is the world!” they tell him, but Mak thinks it’s all “super-boring.”

Things change, though, when a man washes up onshore: the young would-be mapmaker Crusoe (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal), who survives a shipwreck and thinks he’s found paradise on this island. But Mak is the only animal who trusts Crusoe at first (“He was kind of a dummy,” he observes), and he sees him as a chance to learn about—or even visit—another world than the island. His friends, though, see Crusoe as a danger to their way of life, with his muskets, his fire, and his inability to communicate with them.

Which side is right? And how will either group deal with two conniving stowaway cats who became Crusoe’s enemies when they were on the ship together, and who end up on the island and want it for their growing family?

The storylines aren’t particularly riveting on their own, but what makes “The Wild Life” unbearably irritating is the forced cutesiness of the Mak character, who makes variously dumb anachronistic comments (“Everyone hates Mondays!”) and keeps up a stream of needless narration (of the female cat, he says, “In case you missed it, she was pregnant, which didn’t put her in a better mood, that’s for sure”). It’s almost aggressive how much the movie wants us to like Mak, but there’s zero charm to the character. Lines like “Did I forget to tell you I was an incredible mimic?” aren’t funny just because they’re coming from a parrot; even the children at the press screening I attended couldn’t muster up a laugh.

The rest of “The Wild Life” is uninspired, too, from the weird dynamic between the villainous cats (their abusive romantic relationship is played for laughs, which feels inappropriate) to the very obvious depiction of untrustworthy pirates, who gape into Crusoe’s mouth looking for gold teeth.

The only surprising bits of “The Wild Life” are the detailed animation, which is particularly beautiful in its presentation of the island paradise; a chase scene on a water slide that is refreshingly energetic; and a brief subplot that explores how humans affect natural spaces, either by harming the environment or altering the lives of wild animals. That storyline—which is actually pretty interesting for a children’s film—is pushed aside, though, so that the evil cat lady can attack our heroes with her evil cat children. “The Wild Life” takes a couple of steps toward uniqueness, but its multitude of other flaws are overwhelming and irredeemable.

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