'The Wild Life' is a yo-ho-hum take on Robinson Crusoe
Posted September 11
“THE WILD LIFE” — 2 stars — Voices of Yuri Lowenthal, David Howard, Joey Camen; PG (mild action/peril and some rude humor); in general release
“The Wild Life” advertises itself as the “real” story of Robinson Crusoe, so your first inclination before seeing this animated movie might be to refresh your memory on Crusoe’s fictional story.
Then again, tacking that burden onto “The Wild Life’s” already muddled plot might make a bad situation worse.
“The Wild Life” begins as a ship full of pirates rescues Crusoe (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal) off of a deserted island. While the crew interrogates the shaggy-looking Crusoe, his sidekick parrot Tuesday (David Howard) relates their story to a couple of mice on the ship.
So we flash back to Crusoe’s original shipwreck, which left him marooned as the only human survivor on a deserted island that appears to be little more than a pile of rocks. Yet somehow, this island boasts a diverse population of wildlife, featuring Tuesday and his group of friends, which includes, among others, a chameleon named Carmello (Colin Metzger), a goat named Scrubby (Joey Camen), and a mole named Epi (Sandy Fox).
Tuesday and his friends have long suspected a world outside the confines of their island, but until Crusoe landed, they never had proof. The first item of business is to decide whether Crusoe is friend or sea monster, and once that hurdle is cleared, they team up to help him build an elaborate tree house.
It’s around this time that conflict arrives in the form of two nasty stray cats that also survived the crash. Up until recently, Mal (Jeff Doucette) and May (Debi Tinsley) had been stranded on an isolated part of the island, and they used that time to breed up a small army of similarly nasty cats.
Since this is a film for kids, it may not be worth pointing out that a human being capable of surviving shipwreck on a deserted island likely wouldn’t have trouble dealing with a couple of stray cats. But that’s just one example of how “The Wild Life” builds on a weak foundation of so-so ideas.
There’s no one element that succeeds enough to mask the mediocrity of the others. The animation is fine, but nothing special. The story feels unfocused. There is no familiar celebrity voice to anchor the expansive cast. The story hints at some character motivation — mainly with Tuesday — but never develops anyone enough to get us to really care about what they are doing. And the aforementioned cats fail to provide enough of a threat or a conflict to create any tension.
Like many animated features, “The Wild Life” also struggles to define its relationship between talking animals and talking humans. If everyone is speaking English, how are we supposed to accept the idea that the humans and animals don’t understand each other? And when you have a dozen different animal species that speak, isn’t it a little problematic when one of your characters has to eat a fish that inexplicably doesn’t have the same capacity?
But that may be beside the point. In sum, director Vincent Kesteloot’s “The Wild Life” is a harmless piece of second-tier animation that will pass silently in the night. A streamlined story and a few less characters might have given the film enough focus to make it entertaining. But as is, parents would be best advised to save this one for a discount night.
“The Wild Life” is rated PG for mild action/peril and some rude humor; running time: 90 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.