Voices: No, this doesn’t look from the get-go to be an animated classic in the making. But it does utilize a few amusing secret weapons, namely the voices of Tim Curry (as the voice of mustachioed family patriarch Nigel Thornberry, an obsessive naturalist) and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea (vocalizing the unhinged yips of 4-year-old Donnie, the Thornberrys’ adopted wild child).
Show itself centers on the adventures of the Dr. Dolittle-esque Eliza (“Party of Five’s” Lacey Chabert), a 12-year-old nerdette who chats constantly with lions, chimps and all variety of primates. Her best pal is a chimp cleverly named Darwin (Tom Kane), a fastidious, British-accented sort who has adopted the Thornberry family.
Eliza’s parents, Nigel and the skittish Marianne (Jodi Carlisle), are outdoors adventurers who travel from Africa to the Amazon shooting documentaries about exotic, endangered and mysterious animals. Eliza has her own agenda, as do the untamed Donnie (whose hair resembles bundled kindling and who has a nasty habit of eating live insects) and Debbie (Danielle Harris), the Thornberrys’ teenage daughter, who busies herself acting put-upon and talking like a Valley girl.
Premiere, penned by Tom Stern, concerns the family’s crisis when its gaudy trailer-type vehicle gets swept away in a flash flood, forcing the Thornberrys to spend a night in the middle of the African savanna and the sisters to alternately befriend and ward off a pride of hungry lions. Where, oh where, is Marlin Perkins when we really need him?
The familiar Klasky Csupo animation style of rich tones and deliberate motion is all over “The Wild Thornberrys,” no doubt lending the ages 5-12 demo the requisite comfort level. And Curry and Flea clearly are having a splendid time. One also has to admire the theme of animal protection that’s relayed here with admirable subtlety.
Still, while it’s heartening to find a primetime cartoon in which kids aren’t spewing bodily secretions and gratuitous profanity, the half-hour feels like it’s missing something. Maybe it’s the fact that Eliza seems less like a heroine than she does a dweeb — or the feeling that the “Rugrats” gang will be paying a cross-promotional visit any minute now.