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The Wild

Uninspired character animation and obnoxious banter aside, "The Wild" is ultimately done in by the persistent stench of been-there-seen-that. Trite tale about over-domesticated zoo animals taking on Mother Nature is doomed to provoke unflattering comparisons with DreamWorks' hit "Madagascar," with theatrical returns likely to provide the most glaring point of contrast.

With:
Voices: Samson - Kiefer Sutherland Benny - Jim Belushi Nigel - Eddie Izzard Bridget - Janeane Garofalo Kazar - William Shatner Larry - Richard Kind Ryan - Greg Cipes

Uninspired character animation and obnoxious banter aside, “The Wild” is ultimately done in by the persistent stench of been-there-seen-that. Trite tale about over-domesticated zoo animals taking on Mother Nature is doomed to provoke unflattering comparisons with DreamWorks’ hit “Madagascar,” with theatrical returns likely to provide the most glaring point of contrast. Though ancillary prospects look better, Disney’s low-profile marketing push will keep away all but the most desperate families, i.e., those who have already sat through “Ice Age: The Meltdown” twice.

Whatever its flaws, “Madagascar” was at least visually all of a piece and peppered with genuinely amusing moments in its story of animals responding to the call of the wild. By contrast, this Toronto-produced kidpic, helmed by Steve “Spaz” Williams (a visual effects supervisor making his feature helming debut) from an antic screenplay credited to four writers, is notable chiefly for its inconsistent character design, reliance on scatological gags and endless cribbing from superior sources.

First reel unspools at a Gotham zoo where the animals all affect the same nonstop vaudevillian patter, dabble in weirdly anthropomorphic activities like curling and live in blissful ignorance of the food chain. Samson the lion (speaking in the gravelly tones of Kiefer Sutherland) is the unabashed star of the zoo, regaling his pipsqueak cub Ryan (Greg Cipes) and others with exciting tales of his supposedly wild origins.

Frustrated at his inability to produce a decent roar and sick of dwelling in his dad’s shadow, Ryan runs away and gets himself shipped off to a distant jungle. Cub’s abduction and Samson’s rescue mission directly channel the father-son Sturm und Drang of both “The Lion King” and “Finding Nemo,” though absent the former’s powerhouse dramatics or the latter’s eye-popping visual splendor.

Tagging along with Samson are the usual wisecracking suspects, including Benny (Jim Belushi), a squirrel with a creepy interspecies crush on mouthy giraffe Bridget (Janeane Garofalo); Larry, a cheerfully slow-witted snake (Richard Kind); and Nigel (Eddie Izzard), an eloquent marsupial who can’t stand the stuffed koalas in the zoo’s gift shops.

That Samson himself resembles a toy, with his plush, cuddly fur and none-too-persuasive digital mane, is a joke of which the pic seems unaware. Though its overall look leans more toward 3-D realism than did the more angular and stylized “Madagascar,” the members of this “Wild” bunch seem to have been molded and animated with disparate aesthetic principles in mind.

The most interesting critters on display are a herd of carnivorous wildebeest, led by the bloodthirsty Kazar (voiced with sinister gusto by William Shatner). These fierce jungle inhabitants end up forcing a confrontation with Samson, who must in turn face his own oppressive daddy issues and reconcile with his son.

Script’s sense of humor rarely leaves the bathroom, while every other yuk seems predicated on the animals either crashing into each other or having their heads knocked against a hard surface.

Following the dubious recent trend of laying hit pop songs over toon montages, soundtrack includes such incongruous offerings as Coldplay, as well as original songs by “Spamalot” duo Eric Idle and John Du Prez.

Popular on Variety

The Wild

Production: A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Hoytyboy Pictures and Sir Zip Studios/Contrafilm production. Produced by Clint Goldman, Beau Flynn. Executive producers, Kevin Lima, Will Vinton, Stefano Simchowitz. Co-producers, Ed Decter, John J. Strauss, Jane Park. Directed by Steve "Spaz" Williams. Screenplay, Ed Decter, John J. Strauss, Mark Gibson, Philip Halprin, based on a story by Gibson, Halprin.

Crew: (Color); editors, V. Scott Balcerek, Steven L. Wagner; music, Alan Silvestri. Production designer/art director, Chris Farmer; sound designer/supervising sound editor (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Andy Newell; supervising lead animator, Warren Leathem; character supervisor, Ken Ouellette; sequence supervisors, Terry Bradley, Todd Jahnke; visual effects supervisor, Brian A. Smeets; associate producer, Jim Burton; casting, Jen Rudin Pearson, Corbin Bronson. Reviewed at Avco Cinema, Los Angeles, April 11, 2006. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 82 MIN.

With: Voices: Samson - Kiefer Sutherland Benny - Jim Belushi Nigel - Eddie Izzard Bridget - Janeane Garofalo Kazar - William Shatner Larry - Richard Kind Ryan - Greg Cipes

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