×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Wild Life’

nWave's latest dynamic 3D toon reimagines Robinson Crusoe as the ultimate party-crasher, telling his story from the p.o.v. of the animals whose tropical paradise he invaded.

With:
Doug Stone, Ron Allen, Colin Metzger, Michael Sorich, Yuri Lowenthal, Sandy Fox, Jay Jones, Lindsay Torrance, Dennis O'Connor, Jeff Doucette, Debi Tinsley, Laila Berzins, B.J. Oakie, Joey Lotsko, Lex Lang, Joey Camen, George Babbit, Kyle Hebert, David Howard.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4731008/

For nearly three centuries, audiences have marveled at the “strange surprizing adventures” of Robinson Crusoe, “who lived eight and twenty years, all alone in an un-inhabited island on the coast of America.” Well, not entirely alone. Crusoe shared his oasis with birds and beasts aplenty, and thanks to the magic of computer animation, the critters finally get a chance to tell their side of the story in “The Wild Life,” which plays like a watered-down version of Aardman’s “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” Already released in Germany and rolling out across Europe in advance of Lionsgate’s Sept. 9 Stateside release, this tame, kid-friendly marooned cartoon should do well for nWave, the stereo-savvy Belgian animation studio behind “A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures” and “Thunder and the House of Magic,” whose dynamic use of 3D somewhat compensates for otherwise flat storytelling.

Whereas Crusoe recounted his own narrative in Daniel Dafoe’s first-person novel, it’s a bright red parrot named Mak (David Howard) who does all the talking here. Unlike his fellow islanders — an exotic mix of species, including a blubbery tapir named Rosie (Laila Berzins) and the needle-voiced echidna Epi (Sandy Fox), both more than content with their daily luaus and all-you-can-eat bug buffets — Mak dreams of a bigger world out there, squawking, “How much paradise can a bird take!?”

When Crusoe’s ship smashes upon the rocky shore, Mak sees his ticket off the island — nevermind that he technically has “eight and twenty years” to wait. Meanwhile, the other animals approach the strange ginger-haired castaway with caution, studying this tall, gangly outsider from a distance. (Crusoe isn’t especially appealing, as animated humans go, though he’s been designed to emphasize his thin limbs and bendy knees and elbows, and it’s amusing to watch him flail about and fall on his bum.)

Though the animals all speak English amongst themselves, they don’t understand Crusoe (Yuri Lowenthal), watching from behind a rock as he unloads his supplies and recoiling in shock when the unfamiliar creature removes his coat. “Look, he’s stripped off his skin!” gasps kingfisher Kiki (Lindsay Torrance), while chameleon Carmello (Colin Metzger) does his best to disappear (a neat trick that slyly uses the 3D format to suggest near-invisibility). This clever animal-centric perspective, reminiscent of such kidlit staples as “Mr. Revere and I” and “Ben and Me,” not only suggests that the hapless young mariner might never have made it home by himself, but offers a playfully anti-imperialistic spin on Dafoe’s classic tale of Western superiority.

Of course, the animals need Crusoe, too, and he will soon become their closest ally in a battle for control of the island, which could soon be overrun by a pair of scraggly cats (Debi Tinsley, Jeff Doucette). The only other survivors of the storm, not counting Crusoe’s faithful golden retriever, these mangy ratters are Gremlin-ugly and act like “The Lion King’s” conniving hyenas — the total opposite of Thunder, the cuddly cat star of nWave’s last outing. In a rare twist for a kids’ cartoon, the dog dies — after which the feline culprits are banished to the bug-infested Curse Island, though they’ll be back to unleash more mayhem in the final reel, this time accompanied by a legion of equally unpleasant offspring.

In the meantime, Mak succeeds in making friends with Crusoe, earning the nickname “Tuesday” in the process (one of the project’s few nods to the novel, wherein the hero rescued a savage sidekick and dubbed him Friday). The animals pitch in as Crusoe builds a giant treehouse and beacon to attract passing ships, while co-directors Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen manage to transform what might otherwise be years of sheer boredom (during which Crusoe sprouts a big red beard) into high-energy excitement — for easily appeased young audiences, at least.

While other animation studios have begrudgingly adopted stereoscopic 3D, embracing the box office bump the technology provides without necessarily adapting to how it can alter (and potentially improve) the viewing experience, Belgian nWave was among the first outfits to truly embrace the added dimension. From the early, eye-crossing antics of “Fly Me to the Moon” to the nimble, virtual-camera trickery of “The House of Magic,” Stassen has been a major innovator in the 3D space, and “The Wild Life” offers them another dynamic playground in which to run amok. Whether dangling characters off the edge of a cliff or zooming around Crusoe’s rickety wooden waterslide, the story is constantly on the go, launching objects and characters along the Z axis — and out over the audiences’ heads.

Considering that nWave doesn’t have the budget to compete with DreamWorks or Pixar (typically the most conservative when it comes to 3D), this strategy sets “The Wild Life” apart. But it should also be noted that the filmmakers, who dub and distribute the film in multiple languages, have finally mastered the element that nearly always trips up Euro-based toon studios: They’ve ensured that the dialogue and jokes actually work in English, casting appealing (if not necessarily recognizable) voices across the board.

Film Review: 'The Wild Life'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 16, 2016. Running time: 90 MIN. (Original title: “Robinson Crusoe”)

Production: (Animated — Belgium-France) A Lionsgate (in U.S.)/StudioCanal (in France) release of a StudioCanal, nWave Pictures, Illuminata Pictures production. Produced by Gina Gallo, Mimi Maynard, Domonic Paris, Ben Stassen, Caroline Van Iseghem. Executive producers, Olivier Courson, Eric Dillens.

Crew: Directed by Vincent Kesteloot, Ben Stassen. Screenplay, Lee Christopher, Domonic Paris, Graham Welldon. Camera (color, 3D); art directors, Kesteloot, Anthony Leveque; sound, David Gerain, Simon Jamart; supervising sound editor, David Vranken; re-recording mixer, Luc Thomas; special effects supervisor, Yannick Lasfas.

With: Doug Stone, Ron Allen, Colin Metzger, Michael Sorich, Yuri Lowenthal, Sandy Fox, Jay Jones, Lindsay Torrance, Dennis O'Connor, Jeff Doucette, Debi Tinsley, Laila Berzins, B.J. Oakie, Joey Lotsko, Lex Lang, Joey Camen, George Babbit, Kyle Hebert, David Howard.

More Film

  • UGC Distribution Closes on Mariano Cohn’s

    Ventana Sur: UGC Distribution Closes Market Hit ‘4 x 4’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — UGC Distribution has beaten out all other suitors to clinch what had became by Friday morning the most anticipated deal of this year’s Ventana Sur market: All rights to France on Argentine Mariano Cohn’s “4 x 4,” sold by Latido Films and distributed throughout Argentina by Disney. After mounting speculation about which [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    Film News Roundup: 'Aquaman' Hits $152 Million at International Box Office

    In today’s film news roundup, “Aquaman” has already grossed more than $150 million outside the U.S., Michael Masini joins “Birds of Prey,” and Freestyle buys the documentary “Shamanic Trekker.” BOX OFFICE More Reviews Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' TV Review: 'Vanity Fair' Warner Bros.’ tentpole “Aquaman” has taken in $152 million overseas in 36 markets, [...]

  • 'Winter's Night' Review: Enigmatic, Offbeat Korean

    Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night'

    There are thousands of films about love’s beginning, and a great many about love’s end. But far fewer deal with a relationship’s late-middle: the spreading, sluggish delta of coupledom when decades of familiarity, if they have not bred contempt, at least threaten irritation. “Winter’s Night,” Jang Woo-jin’s playfully melancholic third feature, after the acclaimed “A [...]

  • Tomasz Kot UTA

    UTA Signs ‘Cold War’ Star Tomasz Kot (EXCLUSIVE)

    UTA has signed “Cold War” star Tomasz Kot. He has appeared in more than 30 films and 26 plays as well as dozens of television series. More Reviews Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' TV Review: 'Vanity Fair' Most recently, Kot has received award-season buzz for his starring role as Wiktor in Pawel Pawlikowski’s feature “Cold [...]

  • Kenneth Branagh's 'All Is True' Opening

    Kenneth Branagh's 'All Is True' Opening Palm Springs Film Festival

    The 30th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival will open on Jan. 3 with historical drama “All Is True,” starring Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen. Branagh, who will be in attendance at the opening night screening, directed from Ben Elton’s script about the little-known period in the final years of William Shakespeare. Branagh [...]

  • Actor and Activist Rodney Kageyama Dies

    Actor and Activist Rodney Kageyama Dies at 77

    Actor, activist and influentials member of the Japanese American community, Rodney Kageyama, died in his sleep Dec. 9. He was 77. The SAG member was known for roles in “Karate Kid IV” with Hillary Swank, Ron Howard’s film “Gung Ho” and the spinoff sitcom, and the TV movie “Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes” with Max [...]

  • Most Popular Films 2018: The Best

    9 Holiday Gift Ideas Inspired by This Year's Most Popular Films

    From superheroes to super nannies, 2018 was a year full of memorable characters — and memorable movies. Whether you’re a big film buff, an avid follower of a popular franchise, or have a couple movie fans in your life, here are nine gifts that capture the fun of some of this year’s biggest films. 1. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content