The Wild Thornberrys Movie
2002, PG, 79 min. Directed by Jeff McGrath, Cathy Malkasian. Voices by Lacey Chabert, Tim Curry, Jodi Carlisle, Rupert Everett, Danielle Harris, Lynn Redgrave, Marisa Tomei, Flea.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 20, 2002
Although I'm a huge fan of L.A.-based animation house Klasky Csupo, I went into their Thornberrys film without having seen a lick of this family-oriented series they produce for the Nickelodeon network. Klasky Csupo is the production house behind Rugrats, Duckman, and most famously The Simpsons (not to mention the undeservedly overlooked and hopelessly supercool AAAHH! Real Monsters); somehow Thornberrys had eluded me. While I'm not likely to be tuning in to Nicktoons anytime soon to further explore the series, this is pretty cool stuff, with a serious ecological bent, some smashing voice work from the great (and wonderfully silly) Tim Curry, and above-average animation and story. It's not Adult Swim -- Cartoon Network's Sunday evening block of “edgy” animated series that scored a cult following almost instantly -- but then it wasn't meant to be. Refreshingly free of kiddie pablum (which the kids hate, by the way -- producers take note, or at least stretch those synapses enough to recall, if only dimly, what punched your buttons when you were pint-sized), Thornberrys relates the wilderness adventures of the titular family: dad Nigel (Curry), a veddy British nature documentarian; Yank mom Marianne (Carlisle), his cinematographer; irritable teen daughter Debbie (Harris); and younger daughter Eliza (Chabert), who quite literally has the power to talk to the animals. As recapped in the film's first two minutes, the Thornberry clan roam the world in search of animals to study and film, and in the process have picked up series regulars Donnie the Animal Boy (Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, obviously having a blast spouting googly-eyed gibberish) and Darwin the chimp (Kane), Eliza's best friend. Writing this I realize it sounds more like the premise for a truly awful sitcom, but somehow the fluid, cel animation (with occasional CGI) and rich-hued backgrounds render the proceedings more interesting than annoying. The movie has Eliza going after Congo poachers, who have kidnapped her favorite cheetah cub and plan to slaughter thousands of elephants in an elaborate ivory scheme. There's a tangential subplot about a British boarding school that's brief but genuinely humorous (and includes a food fight set to the riotous ska of the Specials' “Monkey Man”) and a decent amount of one-off gags (horse poop! haw!), but adults will groove on the constant twitting of that famous stiff upper lip the Brits are so fond of displaying. (At one point, the Thornberry grandparents are awakened by a midnight crash on the veldt, causing grandpa to cry out, “The Blitz!” To which his matronly wife sleepily replies, “No, dear, England is safe.” Hey, it made me chuckle. So sue me.) The Wild Thornberrys Movie isn't going to make anyone's head explode with joy, but it is sweet and sporadically funny in its own loopy way. Now where's that damn Space Ghost movie, already?