[Screen It]


(2016) (voices of Yuri Lowenthal, Jay Jones) (PG)

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Computer Animated Comedy/Adventure: A man ends up shipwrecked on an island with a small number of animals, all of whom must contend with two mangy cats that want to get revenge on him and eat the others.
Following a bad storm at sea, the somewhat clumsy Robinson Crusoe (voice of YURI LOWENTHAL) and his faithful dog Aynsley (DOUG STONE) end up shipwrecked on a small island in the middle of nowhere. Robison is scared about the prospect of cannibals, but all he ends up finding is a number of animals, most of which initially want to scare him away since they've never seen a human or dog before and don't know if they're friend or foe. Among those animals are Rosie (voice of LAILA BERZINS), a nervous tapir; best friends Epi the porcupine (voice of SANDY FOX) and Pango the pangolin (voice of JEFF DOUCETTE); old nearsighted goat Scrubby (voice of JOEY CAMEN); a chameleon named Carmello (voice of COLIN METZGER), and a kingfisher, Kiki (voice of LINDSAY TORRANCE), who's highly suspicious of the man.

That initially holds true for a parrot by the name of Mak (voice of JAY JONES). But once he realizes the human poses no threat and realizes the man's presence validates his beliefs of a bigger world somewhere across the open sea, he befriends Robinson who nicknames the bird Tuesday. Eventually, he and the animals all get along, and while he hopes and plans for a rescue, he starts building small structures for himself and them around the island. But they must contend with two devious felines, May (voice of DEBI TINSLEY) and her dimwitted mate, Mal (voice of JEFF DOUCETTE), who not only want to get revenge on Robinson for earlier interactions on the now wrecked ship, but also set their sights on the various animals as possible meals.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Daniel Defoe's novel "Robinson Crusoe" must have blown people's minds back when it was published in 1719 . After all, the vast majority of people at that time only traveled by foot, horse or carriage and likely never ventured more than one hundred miles from where they lived in their entire life. Traveling by sea was done by some, but it was still a precarious endeavor, with all sorts of stories of what one might encounter in the vast oceans (not to mention the likelihood of literally sailing off the edge of the flat world).

I'm guessing those who traveled -- particularly to remote parts of the globe -- and lived to tell about it upon their return ended up as something akin to being a local celebrity. Thus, a tale about traveling and ending up shipwrecked among, of all things, hungry cannibals must have been quite the captivating read nearly 400 years ago.

Since then, various storytellers have used that basic premise to fuel their tales, be those literal adaptations of Defoe's work or variations thereof, such as "Castaway," or more far-flung yarns such as "Lost in Space" or, of course, the TV show "Gilligan's Island" that even named Defoe's title character in the catchy theme song. What Defoe probably never imagined -- especially since film, computer animation and the notion of talking animals weren't anywhere near anyone's radar back then -- was a poorly made kids film titled "The Wild Life."

Originally named "Robinson Crusoe" for release in other markets, this 90-some minute film isn't bad to look at as the computer animation -- courtesy of Belgium's nWave animation house -- is fairly handsome to behold (and sometimes gorgeously so) and the characters rendered in a way that thankfully doesn't show the budget restraints typically found in such films that don't come with the backing of major Hollywood studios.

Pretty visuals, however, will only take you so far. After sitting through this film that's best suited for the attention span of really, really young kids, one is likely to wish that as much attention and effort would have been put into crafting an engaging story and characters as making the visuals pop. That or that they never sat through the film at all (or as a fellow reviewer stated upon walking out of our press screening that she wished she had a time machine to go back in time and not see the pic in the first place).

While it's nice to see that the filmmakers -- Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen who work from a script by Lee Christopher, Domonic Paris and Graham Weldon -- didn't fall prey to the notion of needing Hollywood A-listers to voice the characters (something that never makes sense beyond lining the pockets of such stars and allowing the filmmakers to rub shoulders with them), that's about the only notable thing about this offering.

Beyond that, the Crusoe character is your standard dweeby and awkward but ultimately resourceful guy who finds himself surrounded by a literal menagerie of talking animals. Mind you, they talk among themselves but he can't understand what they're saying, although at least the dreamer of the bunch -- a parrot named Mak who he names Tuesday (which is an in-joke bit since the novel had the title character naming another Friday) -- somehow does comprehend English.

The rest of the characters run the gamut of animal types (and related behaviors and comments, including lame dialogue such as a goat uttering "Just wait 'till I get my hooves on them," while a villainous cat states "We've got the upper claw"). The only real storyline involves that evil kitty and its dimwitted mate trying to get revenge on the human and eat the animals.

That leads to various action scenes that are decently rendered in terms of animation and orchestrated chaos, but aren't any more engaging than the rest of the material that's decidedly flat. Of course, I could chastise the filmmakers for not watching and learning from the works of Pixar, Illumination Entertainment, and DreamWorks Animation, but the same could apply to most live-action flicks that never measure up to truly great movies.

This offering will never earn that latter moniker and should very well likely make a quick beeline to home video. "The Wild Life" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 3, 2016 / Posted September 9, 2016

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