Ah, The Wild. You remember The Wild, don't you? It's that CG-animated Disney flick that pretty much vanished without a trace when it opened in early 2006. You know, the one that had the Herculean task of trying to capture the attention of an audience already sick of these funny animal cartoons. The one that didn't benefit from any sort of tie-in merchandise. The one where you saw the trailer and thought it looked an awful lot like a couple of other CG cartoons from the past few years. Yeah, that one.
Our story begins at the New York Zoo. A lion named Samson (voiced by Keifer Sutherland) is regaling his son, Ryan (Greg Cipes), with tales of his adventures in the wild. Ryan, who worships his father, is unable to produce a roar worthy of the king of the jungle, a fact that is a source of great shame for the young cub. After Ryan and a couple of his friends accidentally cause Samson's team to lose a curling match, Samson goes ballistic. Ryan, in an attempt to give his father a little payback, sneaks aboard a cargo container that is scheduled to be loaded onto a boat headed for the jungles of Africa. Ryan eventually realizes the error of his ways, but by then it's already too late. Watching helplessly as Ryan is hauled away, Samson vows to rescue his son. He is aided in his efforts by a daffy snake named Larry (Richard Kind), a droll English koala named Nigel (Eddie Izzard), a bemused giraffe named Bridget (Janeane Garofalo), and Benny (James Belushi), a squirrel who pines for Bridget. Samson and his pals commandeer a tugboat and follow Ryan across the Atlantic. Upon their arrival in the jungle they run afoul of a particularly nasty wildebeest named Kazar (William Shatner). Kazar has spent the better part of his life being tormented by lions, and he plans to exact his revenge on Samson and Ryan.
The Wild was purportedly a long time in the making, and this definitely works against it. The movie is pleasant enough, and does feature some genuine laughs, but it feels overly familiar. It plays like a mash-up of elements from Madagascar and Finding Nemo, and the plot even follows many of the same beats. Had it been released a few years ago, The Wild might have encountered a better fate, but as it stands now, it will simply have to settle for being an also-ran. That being said, the creators do manage to come up with a few memorable moments. The scene with the wiseguy alligators in the sewers (guess that urban legend will never die) is very funny. I enjoyed the stuff with the chameleons. And Nigel's huckstering of the wildebeest is arguably the best part of the movie, but that's no surprise, as the majority of the movie's laughs are provided by Izzard, who improvised much of his dialogue. He's like Robin Williams in Aladdin: pulling inspired lines out of the ether, dropping pop culture references, and upstage the rest of the cast. Whether he's bemoaning the zoo's commercialization of his species, stumbling around the deck of the tugboat in a daze, or trying to save his hide during the finale, he's never anything short of hilarious.
The animation itself is a wow. The visuals are stunningly fluid. Recreating fur in the digital realm isn't easy, but the folks at C.O.R.E. Feature Animation do wonders with it here. Each creature's pelt has its own distinct look and texture (there's even a noticeable difference between Nigel and the ubiquitous toy based on him).
One last thing: If you do watch the movie, try to keep count of the number of Disney products and services that are plugged during the sequence in Times Square. I made it to 8,342 before finally giving up.
I can't decide whether to refer to the 1.85:1 transfer as "absolutely beautiful" or "dead solid perfect." Take your pick, because both are certainly apt. You can look all you want, but you won't find a single flaw.
The audio is also top-notch. Both the uncompressed PCM and 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks feature crystal clear dialogue, immersive surround use, and good low-end activity. The Dolby track is also available in French and Spanish; English, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
Kicking off the extras is a series of deleted scenes. Only one is presented in finished form, with the rest provided in storyboard or animatic form. There's nothing earth-shattering here, although the scene with Aisha Tyler voicing Ryan's mother does give a sense of just how much the story changed during the movie's protracted production, and the bit where a heatstroke-stricken Nigel hallucinates provides more of Izzard at his best. Director Steve "Spaz" Williams (a former visual effects artist making his directorial debut here) and producer Clint Goldman provide optional commentary for these scenes.
Next up is Eddie Izzard Unleashed, which is roughly three minutes of Izzard ad-libbing like a madman in the recording studio. It's good stuff.
You also get Meet Colin: The Rock Hyrax, which centers on Colin Cunningham, the C.O.R.E. Animation employee who served as both the lighting lead and the voice of Hyrax, one of the movie's most annoying characters.
Lastly, there's a music video for Disney Radio stalwarts Everlife's cover of "Real Wild Child." Small fry may like it, but it made me long for Iggy Pop.
The Wild is nothing special, but it's amusing enough to warrant at least one viewing.