I wrote in my recent review of 'Ice Age: The Meltdown' that there is just something about cute little talking animal movies that lures me in every time. In retrospect, I realize now that I should have prefaced that by saying that's true only if the movie itself doesn't suck. Unfortunately, 'The Wild' is not the pinnacle of the "furry things that crack wise" genre. A rather high-profile box office thud for Disney earlier this year, pre-release buzz on 'The Wild' was apparently so dreadful that even the nation's top retailers refused to stock its spin-off toys. You know an animated film must be a stinker if even Wal-mart declines to exploit the nation's children off of it.
Truth be told, 'The Wild' really isn't that awful. In fact, it is kind of cute, if unremarkable. Ryan (voiced by Greg Cipes) is a lion who wants to break free of the city zoo so he can go find his dad Samson (Kiefer Sutherland), who was accidentally shipped off to Africa. But his zoo friends including Nigel the koala (Eddie Izzard), Bridget the giraffe (Janeane Garfolo) and Benny the squirrel (James Belushi) aren't going to let him go alone, and team up to help him bring back Samson. But once in Africa, they find themselves in a jungle of trouble -- fending off the evil wildebeest Kazar (William Shatner) while a volcano teeters on an edge of eruption. Can the team rescue Ryan and get back to the zoo before it's too late?
As you can probably tell by that plot description, 'The Wild' bears more than a passing resemblance to such animated classics as 'The Lion King' and the more recent 'Madagascar.' (I guess there are only so many stories you can tell about talking animals?) But quite frankly, the plot matters less to a film like this than how cute and clever the characters are, if the jokes are funny, and how well the inevitable pop culture parodies work. And I did chuckle quite a bit at the shenanigans in 'The Wild,' even if it is ultimately all quite forgettable. It also helps that some fine voice talent is on board, with Sutherland, Garfolo and especially Belushi as standouts. But it is Izzard as the irrepressible Nigel who really steals the show -- not only does he get all the best lines, but somehow even manages to spin the bad ones with aplomb. Had the whole of 'The Wild' been about Nigel, I wouldn't have complained.
'The Wild' also boasts impressive animation. The directorial debut of longtime CGI wunderkind Steven "Spaz" Williams, the film delivers beautifully-rendered characters, and Williams has a fine eye for minor details. It is nice when, story flaws aside, you can simply enjoy the sheer act of looking a movie. 'The Wild' doesn't blaze any new trails in computer animation, but after seeing so many crappy, direct-to-video looking CGI knock-offs lately ('The Barnyard,' anyone?) it is a breath of fresh air.
Ultimately, though, 'The Wild' does suffer due to a lack of a truly resonant story. I like the cute characters and the simple narrative arc, but we're left with little emotional residue by film's end. Certainly, there is nothing in 'The Wild' nearly as memorable as the best scenes from 'The Lion King' or Pixar's films. But perhaps because my expectations were so low, I remained pleasantly surprised. 'The Wild' is nothing more than an entertaining, harmless diversion, and there are far worse ways to spend 82 minutes with your kids than this.
'The Wild' comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video transfer, and the results are rather lovely. This certainly is one of the best-looking animated films I've seen yet on either next-gen format, and in any case it is certainly superior to Disney's 'Dinosaur.'
A direct digital-to-digital transfer, the image of course looks pristine. But I was impressed with how controlled contrast is. Oftentimes CGI films can look blown out a bit or overpumped, but 'The Wild' looks very natural (no small feat for a completely artificial picture). Colors are rich and vivid, with warm browns, oranges and greens the primary hues. Chroma noise is not a problem, nor is oversaturation. Resultant detail is often exquisite, with every computer-generated hair on the animal's fur clear and sharp. Indeed, 'The Wild' boasts some wonderfully three-dimensional moments, the kind that spoil me against standard-def video for life. I suppose my only comment would be that much of the film's backgrounds look a bit soft, even "out of focus," though given that it's all CGI, I assume this is entirely intentional on the part of the filmmakers and not a fault of the transfer.
Disney also really comes through with 'The Wild's audio, gifting the film with an uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track encoded in full 48 kHz/24-bit. Though I didn't find 'The Wild' a total gangbusters soundtrack, it is very poppy and fun, with some inventive use of surround effects, and with frequent and very detailed atmospheric Animal sounds in the rear channels. Imaging is impressively smooth. 'The Wild is rare for a Disney animated film in that it largely eschews a standard score, and there are no song and dance numbers. Instead, the filmmakers make use of modern pop songs (Coldplay, the Goo Goo Dolls), and the music comes through quite brightly. Dynamics are excellent, with nice deep bass and crystal-clear dialogue reproduction. No, 'The Wild' is not a mammoth of a soundtrack, but it does exactly what it needs to do, and does it handsomely.
Perhaps due to its disappointing box office gross, Disney didn't really pile on the extras for 'The Wild's standard-def DVD release. So while all of those extras are ported over for this Blu-ray release, there really isn't much here to sink your teeth into.
No audio commentary or making-of material is provided. Instead, it is all cute, kid-friendly throwaways. Five Deleted Scenes are offered, each with optional commentary by director Steven "Spaz" Williams and producer Clint Goldman. This is okay stuff, and again Eddie Izzard steals the show with some nice excised riffing for Nigel. There are also more great Izzard improvs with the nearly four-minute "Eddie Izzard Unleashed" blooper and gag reel. Perhaps if the film had been done better, Disney would have greenlit a direct-to-video spin-off for the character already.
The only other two features are both promo fluff. There is the Everlife music video for "Real Wild Child" that is probably a watch-once affair, plus the sort-of mockumentary on the video's "star," dubbed "Meet Colin: The Rock Hyrax." Pretty threadbare.
Alas, no theatrical trailer is included for 'The Wild.' Kudos, however, to Disney for presenting all of the disc's bonus materials in full 1080p video.
Okay, so maybe 'The Wild' isn't a great film. But given lowered expectations, it is perfectly enjoyable and features a standout voice turn by Eddie Izzard as Nigel the talking Koala. This Blu-ray release is more impressive, with a great transfer and soundtrack. The extras are pretty slim though, so unless your kids just love the movie, you can probably get by with keeping this one as a rental.