'The Wild Life'
You know what no one asked for? An impossibly bland animated adaptation of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ narrated by a parrot. Yet here we are. Thanks to the seemingly endless profitability of CG-animated family entertainment, we’ve got one.
Is ‘The Wild Life’ the worst movie of this ever-growing genre? No, certainly not. It’s not even the worst this year, (Hi there, ‘Norm of the North’.) However, it’s the sort of thing that will make viewers question why they even bother with these movies anymore. The 3D is nice, though. Just in case anyone still cares about that. (The three year production schedules on these projects make for awkward cases of delayed trend chasing.)
In a shift from usual tellings of the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ tale, this one comes from the perspective of a few animals on the deserted island. Specifically, our hero is a parrot who has grown bored of life on a tropical paradise and longs to see the larger world. Although he has some buddies including a sassy pig, a wacky goat and nebbish lizard to keep him company, the parrot has had enough of his closed-off existence. Thankfully, Robinson Crusoe crashes onto their island. At first, the gang is confused by the strange human who starts building shelter and odd contraptions. But eventually they become friends, and together they must team up to beat up some pirates when they come ashore and cause trouble. To make this extra kid friendly, the real villains aren’t even the pirates, but rather two naughty cats from their ship. Sigh…
This isn’t exactly a traditional take on ‘Crusoe’. The filmmakers have pulled the absolute basics out of their public domain source and replaced everything else with all the clichés of talking animal CG entertainment. In fact, they were careful to not even let the source slip into the title, lest the target kiddie audience feel worried that they’ll end up at a movie resembling classical literature. Co-directors Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen pander to their profitable demographic in every way possible. Bum jokes, slapstick, bad puns… all those blandly inoffensive elements that adults are convinced kids adore make an appearance, rarely ever daring to scrape above the bottom of the barrel. In fact, the movie barely even mentions that the main human is named Robinson Crusoe. I guess there was concern that some of the tykes in the audience might recognize the title halfway through, realize this was all based on a book, and run out of the theater screaming.
Since you have to dial any CG-animated feature back at least three years to uncover its influences, it’s safe to say that the filmmakers decided to make this project based on the success of ‘Rio’ and Aardman’s ‘The Pirates! Band of Misfits’. Those movies both made a pretty penny, but mostly thanks to gorgeous visuals, witty writing, and celebrity voices that the folks behind ‘The Wild Life’ have neither the talent nor the resources to recapture. Instead, the movie goes through all the basic paces and beats of this genre without a hint of creativity. It feels like a direct-to-video movie given a token theatrical release to legitimize the budget and take advantage of the CGI bird swooping imagery that most viewers don’t even notice anymore. The film should disappear almost instantly and be relegated to its ultimate destiny: accidental gifting by distant relatives to kids they don’t know very well. It would be best if everyone else ignored it until then.