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Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Wild

I’m wild for The Wild ! It’s just that simple, and you are going to go wild for The Wild too, now playing at the Essex Cinemas, as soon as you sit down and the first flickers of this fabulous new film from Disney begins.

I’ll confess. I went to the Essex Cinemas to see The Wild on Saturday afternoon very reluctantly, knowing that Saturday afternoon is the death-knell for quiet and courtesy at any theater, and I cringed at the idea of sharing the viewing with a cavalcade of kids. Much to my horror I discovered a troupe of children were there in a herd to celebrate someone’s birthday. “Oh-oh,” I thought. “If they’re not here to see Ice Age 2: The Meltdown then I’m doomed to watching this movie while trying to read the lips of the characters on the screen in order to hear above the din of the crowd.” Have you ever tried to read the lips of an animated flamingo or a computer-generated kangaroo? Okay, okay, so I get a little worked up over the noise issue when it comes to theaters, but if you think about it, why do people seem to believe that it is perfectly acceptable to talk out loud during a movie that other people have paid to see? It’s just downright, deep-dish rude. If I wanted to hear what some yokel behind me has to say to his girlfriend about his sister’s yeast infection I could do it after the movie, but, believe me, I don’t, and I’m almost sure the yokel’s girlfriend doesn’t want to hear about it either, so do everybody within ten rows of you a favor and just SHUT UP! I just drove across town and paid to experience the movie, not you.

Sorry, I digress. Anyway, much to my astonishment, within a minute of the movie beginning there was quiet in the theater. It may have been The Wild on-screen, but it was The Quiet Place in Theater Two and I was so relieved. The movie itself was so incredibly beautiful that I think it took the kids by surprise and left them speechless. If I’d been talking it would have worked on me too. The cinematography of The Wild is like nothing I’ve ever seen in an animated film before. While there have been remarkable advances in the past couple of years, The Wild brings its’ characters to life in such detail that you can actually see the individual hairs of the animals’ fur shimmer under the sun and the “muscles” of their bodies move under the “layers” of skin and fur. It’s so fascinating it is almost enough to make you forget there is a story going on, but please don’t.

The protagonist, Samson, is a lion that could just as easily have been the CGI beast in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. He is a magnificently handsome creature, but he does have problems, most notably with his son, Ryan (Ryan the Lion, get it?). Ryan is a bit of an embarrassment to his father because he seems incapable of managing a convincing and “lionly” roar. As the King of Beasts at the New York Zoo, Samson has a reputation to uphold and all of the other animals in the Zoo are trying to be supportive, but they do feel his pain. It seems that Ryan is more pussy than panther in the vocal department and he is ashamed of not living up to the reputation of his father, made all the grander with his old man’s stories of his supposed brave daring-do back in The Wild before he came to live at the zoo.

Sooner than later Ryan messes up big time by ruining a championship curling tournament between Samson’s team and the zoo’s penguins (who knew these things went on after hours? And curling of all sports? Oy!). Humiliated, the cub seeks refuge in the one place his father has warned him never to go near – the big green boxes, actually shipping crates that are a part of an animal rescue project bringing endangered animals from around the world to the zoo.

Before you know it, Ryan is whisked away in the supposedly empty container and loaded onto a ship bound for an island in the South Seas where an imminent volcanic eruption threatens the wildlife there. Meanwhile, Samson and his unusual gaggle of friends, Benny the Squirrel, Bridget the Giraffe, Nigel the Koala, and Larry the witless Python are in hot pursuit, but are first forced to endure a night on the town in Manhattan, or, more correctly, under it, as they negotiate the sewer system in search of the docks where they hope to find and liberate the missing feline fur ball.

From here the hilarity explodes as this motley crew sets in motion a series of animal antics that will take them all across the sea and into the jungle, a place as foreign to them as a confessional must be to Paris Hilton. Secrets are revealed, bonds are made, even dictatorships overturned (seriously, I’m not kidding) and before the end titles roll all is well once again in the animal kingdom.

More important than the multi-layered plot, however, are the delightful characterizations made by the artists and the voice talent working to bring life to these critters. Kiefer Sutherland (The Sentinel; tv’s 24) is perfectly cast as the fatherly Samson, and Greg Cipes (Broken Lizard's Club Dread) is peppy, funny, and touching as Ryan, the cub, but it is the supporting cast that brings in the real laughs. Janeane Garofalo (Stay; The Truth About Cats and Dogs) brings a perfect aloofness that must come with being a giraffe, especially one who is practically stalked by the never-ending advances of a lovelorn squirrel, Benny, aka Jim Belushi (tv’s According to Jim), and the never-quite-hitting-on-all-cylinders silliness Richard Kind (The Producers; Spymate) brings to his Larry, the perpetually put-upon python, that make the plot roll along briskly. But the breakout star of this show is Eddie Izzard (Romance & Cigarettes; Ocean’s Twelve), the British cross-dressing comedian, who brings such sparkle, wit and humor to his role as Nigel, the charming if somewhat confused Koala, who staggers through scene after scene, falling, banging his head, tripping, stumbling, and whatnot while also stealing said scenes that brings the most buoyancy to the production. Frankly, I’m ready for a feature starring Nigel on his own; he’s just that good!

The Wild is not going to make you forget The Lion King anytime soon, but it is definitely the rare kind of movie today that can be genuinely called a “family film” and mean it unabashedly. There’s not a joke in the show that talks down to the kids nor is there any shtick that will have the grown-ups gagging from the corniness of it all. My husband and I both laughed out loud throughout the all-too-brief 94 minutes The Wild has to offer. We left the Essex Cinemas with smiles on our faces broad enough to have the staff wanting to put down their popcorn shovels and see what had us so happy, and that’s about the best recommendation I can imagine.

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