The Wild Life is a weird movie to see theatrically released stateside, since it’s an animated feature that doesn’t come from an American, Japanese, or French studio. Rather, this film comes from Belgian animation studio nWave Pictures, who are best known for supplementing their poor domestic performance by exporting their product to the supposedly easy-to-please American youth market and their begrudging parents. The Wild Life does nothing to buck that trend, so while the film is harmless, it’s a dull and plodding experience that even kids are likely to get bored of rather quickly.
Ostensibly a retelling of Robinson Crusoe, the film is only similar to its namesake in that a man by that name shipwrecks on an island and must survive there. Rather, this film’s take on the story is from the perspective of a cast of talking animals, whom humans can’t understand, a fact which isn’t made apparent until about halfway through the film. The animals are at first scared of Crusoe, yet eventually befriend him and help him fend off a couple of evil cats who shipwrecked with him.
The first thing that one is likely to notice is that the film’s writing is awful. Whether this is because the film is a work of translation or because the original screenplay was this groanworthy, The Wild Life is constantly bogged down by characters proclaiming how they feel rather than demonstrating it, and the perspective character—Tuesday the Parrot—is constantly over-narrating to the point of insulting even the youngest audience member’s ability to comprehend the story. Jokes fall completely flat either because they’re overdone clichés or due to a completely inept lack of comedic timing—usually both.
Furthermore, the film gives the audience no one to cling to as a protagonist because all the characters are so flat and dimensionless that I can’t even be bothered to remember their names. There’s a tapir, a goat, a chameleon, an echidna, and a pangolin, all of whom are so bland that their personalities don’t even qualify as one-note. A character death happens halfway through that completely fails to earn the emotional impact it wants to impart, then is completely forgotten about almost immediately. The three characters who feel the most fleshed out—Crusoe, Tuesday, and another bird named Kiki—all have established arcs that are left completely unresolved in favor of an action-oriented climax that is as toothless as it is inane. This is a film that completely bungles the basic tenets of storytelling, even as the pieces are lying around for the thing to essentially write itself.
One could at least hope that the animation would deliver some degree of spectacle, but the character models look about on par for a film made 10 years ago and their movements aren’t so much effortless as they lack the effort necessary to appear fluid and natural. The movie only breaks out the cartoony benefits of having an animated cast in its climax, but as previously stated, it doesn’t do anything interesting enough to justify having to get to that point.
As I walked out of the theater, I overheard a young child—maybe six years old—tell their parent that it wasn’t a very good movie. Even someone to whom the film painstakingly panders can tell that this is a poor excuse for an animated film. And why shouldn’t they? I’ve seen episodes of Dora the Explorer with better writing. At least with those a kid has the opportunity to interact with a beloved character. Here they just get to watch personality-deficient avatars bump into one another and blather lines that amount to nothing. This is a film better left forgotten—or better yet, unseen.