The Wild Life
2016, PG, 90 min. Directed by Vincent Kesteloot, Ben Stassen. Voices by Yuri Lowenthal, David Howard, Laila Berzins, Joey Camen, Sandy Fox, Jeff Doucette, Kyle Hebert, Dennis O’Connor.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 9, 2016
This Belgian animated film is one strange bird. (No disrespect intended to its principal character, an adventure-seeking parrot nicknamed Tuesday by his human companion.) The mostly kid-friendly storyline loosely incorporates well-known literary characters such as Robinson Crusoe and Long John Silver, but without any specific reference to either Dafoe’s castaway novel or Robert Louis Stevenson’s pirate tale, except for a lone man’s marooned existence on a tropical isle. The film’s point of view rests not with the scrawny, ginger-haired Crusoe, but with the gaggle of island creatures that initially fear but ultimately befriend their shipwrecked visitor and his loyal canine. (Spoiler alert: The dog’s subsequent fate will upset both child and adult alike.) The filmmakers employ a variety of accents to voice the U.S. version of the movie, ranging from a goat’s hillbilly twang to a tapir’s honey-inflected drawl to a chameleon’s Queen’s English. Unfortunately, the critter characterizations pale in comparison to their anthropomorphic counterparts in relatively recent Pixar and Disney animated features. Indeed, those movies have set a high bar for the genre in general, one that rather conventional films like this one inevitably fail to clear. The only time The Wild Life exhibits any of the exuberance or wit of say Finding Nemo or Zootopia is during an extended chase scene near the end. Otherwise, though hardly terrible, the movie is imminently forgettable. Once it’s over, it feels as if it never happened.
Not surprisingly, the villains in the piece are a horde of stowaway cats that survive the shipwreck, terrorizing everyone in their relentless quest for a meal. Looking like mangy feline versions of the gremlins in Joe Dante’s 1984 horror comedy, these demonic kitties make the conniving Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp look like pussies. Any adult attending this film with a pre-K offspring may need to reassure the child afterward that little Tigger back home won’t devour him in his sleep. No kidding. They’re that scary. The Wild Life is an ailurophobe’s nightmare.