For scientists and public health officials, the worry is always that some virus is going to mutate and turn into a similar but slightly different variation of a current disease. For movie reviewers, the fear is that some idea for a movie -- whether simply pitched to many studios in outline form or submitted as a finished script -- is going to mutate into a similar but slightly different variation of a previous film.
You know, they're the ones that seem like they're essentially the same movie, but with slightly different parameters. It's occurred before on various occasions ranging from those body switching movies to the underwater monsters pics to those computer-animated insect flicks. And now it's happened again regarding computer-animated zoo animals escaping their New York City confines and heading off for an exotic adventure in a faraway land where various personal issues are resolved along the way.
If that sounds familiar, it should since "Madagascar" was the first out of the gate last year in telling its version of the story. Now "The Wild" follows in line. The first was about a lion, giraffe and hippo who set out to find their zebra friend who's flown the coop -- so to speak. That results in them being in a cargo ship that's hijacked by penguins before ending up on the title island nation where the lion must deal with his instincts as they deal with some menacing hyena type predators.
Here, a lion, giraffe, snake, koala bear and squirrel set out to find the lion's son who's similarly escaped (also driven by wanderlust for the wild). That results in them being on a boat (the cub is on the cargo ship) where they end up somewhere in Africa where the lion must deal with his instincts (or initial lack thereof) as they deal with some menacing wildebeests who've decided to switch sides and become predators.
Since these computer-generated films take a long time to get to the screen, they obviously stemmed from the same idea somewhere along the line. Accordingly, and in this sort of case, one should cut the second film a little slack since it's not a purposeful rip-off of its predecessor. That said, it's difficult to watch this offering without being reminded of "Madagascar," so the rest of the review will take both elements in consideration.
Unlike the previous film that sported a retro but clunky looking animation style, this one is going for something more akin to photo realism, although not of the kind you might expect. Rather than something along the amazingly portrayed lion in "The Chronicles of Narnia," our king of the jungle here -- along with his cohorts -- looks like a movable plush doll.
I suppose that's intended to make it more appealing to kids and thus sell more of the requisite related toys (which might also explain the somewhat odd inclusion of various nationalities for some of the minor characters -- Indian pigeons and Swedish sounding dung beetles, for instance -- all the better for the film to play overseas), but it's likely to have somewhat of an odd effect on adults in tow.
Speaking of the latter, there are various attempts to entertain them via cultural references that kids won't get (brief bits from "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Apocalypse Now" among others), but not as many as most viewers will likely be expecting based on the same in other computer-generated kids films. And while their intent isn't clear, a few of the lion's lines may strike chords with viewers of TV's "24" (especially since he's voiced by that show's star, Kiefer Sutherland).
The rest of the vocal work -- from the likes of Janeane Garofalo, Jim Belushi, Eddie Izzard, Richard Kind and William Shatner (as a megalomaniacal wildebeest who's fed up with being on the wrong end of the food chain) -- is okay. Yet, the blandness of it all stems more from the script by Ed Decter, Mark Gibson, Philip Halprin and John J. Strauss than with the actual performances. Simply put, nothing memorable comes from their mouths. That also holds true for the overall plot that -- natch -- is a lot of "Madagascar" and a good bit of "The Lion King" thrown in for "good" measure.
Beyond the obvious visual reference to the Broadway musical of the same name (seen in passing in a ride through Times Square, and owned by Disney who's also behind this film), there's the overall lion dad-son issue. In addition, there's an animal-based musical number, a few cliff dangling moments involving the king of the jungle, and some wildebeests intent on making the cub an orphan (in usual Disney style there's no second parent).
While the plot is competent if mediocre, some of the smaller elements are more successful and entertaining, although they're of the hit and miss variety. While having the group encounter some alligators in the New York sewer system seems inspired (if too predictable), there isn't much to it once we learn they're just a bunch of native wise-guys. Better are a gaggle of chameleons and their interaction with one another as well as their subsequent colored and camouflaged light show.
Director Steve "Spaz" Williams lives up to his nickname (not given by us) as the film is all over the place in nothing short of a frenetic style. It's certainly can't be accused of being listless, but the mediocrity of it all simply stems from constantly reminding viewers of films they've already seen.