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THE WILD (article first published : 2006-05-8)

There is no denying that The Wild, the latest computer-animated romp from the Disney studio, is a blatant rip-off of last year's highly successful Madagascar, both films involving animals that escape from a zoo to rescue one of their kind, then end up, like fish out of water, in the jungle.

It's true there is hardly a single fresh idea in the film - also watch for cribs from Finding Nemo and Ice Age. And, it must be said, the plot is rather threadbare.

But The Wild's saving graces are that the animation is pretty nifty - computer-animated fur has come a long way since the odd-looking dog in Toy Story - and it contains some great one-liners.

A rather precious giraffe called Bridget (the voice of Janeane Garofalo), for instance, flickers her long eyelashes and declares, on setting hoof in the wild after years of zoo pampering: "I wasn't made for this. I was made to simply look elegant, nibble at things and fall under 'G' in children's books". Then there's the cuddly koala, Nigel (Eddie Izzard), who, after a scare, announces: "Could somebody pass the eucalyptus wipes". And Kazar (William Shatner), a gnarled and tough king of the wildebeest, introduces himself, in a regal tone, as "Leader, prophet . . . and choreographer".

Directed with a penchant for frenetic action by Steve "Spaz" Williams, The Wild centres on the relationship between Samson the Lion (Kiefer Sutherland) and his cub, Ryan (Greg Cipes), which is wobbly at a time when the little fellow accidentally finds himself being shipped off in a container to Africa.

Dad and assorted sidekicks then rush to the rescue, leaving the zoo to nonchalantly wind their way through a virtually people-free New York, dodge a couple of alligators in the sewer system, then hop aboard a vessel. It's a tugboat that has such incredible staying power that it trails the container ship all the way to our continent, before hitting a sandbank.

Samson and pals - including Bridget the Giraffe, Nigel the Koala, Benny the Squirrel (James Belushi) and Larry the dim-witted Anaconda (Richard Kind) - then go on the scout for young Ryan. En route they cross paths with colourful undercover chameleons Cloak and Camo (Bob Joles and Chris Edgerly), a vulture (Greg Berg) and the dreaded Kazar, a victim of superstition and a powerful and influential beast who believes he can only truly rule the jungle if he can defeat a lion.

As Kazar's plot hatches, against the backdrop of an angry volcano, so we learn a secret about Samson that he has long kept from his friends and his son, who feels inadequate because his roar is little more than a purr.

Peppered with contemporary songs, including Clocks by Coldplay, The Wild is an improvement on the boring Chicken Little and is engaging enough as a matinee family treat.

But, sadly, it's a far, far cry from Disney at its best. Rating: 5/10. Billy Suter




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