The Wild Life Review
WHAT “SKULLDUGGERY” IS THIS?
Back in 1719, English novelist Daniel Defoe published the novel Robinson Crusoe. First released under the author name of Robinson Crusoe, which many believed that it was a work on non-fiction (a travelogue memoir to a real person), tells the story of castaway who spends thirty years on a remote tropical island (somewhere near Trinidad) and encounters various obstacles (weather elements, cannibals, captives, and mutineers), before being ultimately being rescued. Despite its “simplistic” narrative, Defoe’s novel was widely accepted and well received in the literary world and has been ever since its debut, being republished and adapted many times in multiple languages. The story of Robinson Crusoe has even gone beyond its literary works, being adapted in various media facets (i.e. TV shows, movies, etc.). Now nWave Pictures and StudioCanal present a new animated tale to Robinson Crusoe titled The Wild Life (or Robinson Crusoe in other non-Northern America territories). Does this animated feature spin a new yarn to Defoe’s classic novel or does it flounder beneath its cartoon premise?
On a small (but lush) tropical island, the native animals that live there, consisting of Mak (David Howard Thornton), a Macaw bird, Kiki (Melanie Hinze), a Kingfisher Bird, Scrubby (Joey Camen), an old goat, Camello (Colin Metzger), a chameleon, Epi (Sandy Fox), a porcupine, Pango (Jeff Doucette), an echidna, and Rosie (Laila Berzins), a tapir, are joyously happy in their surroundings, enjoying freedom, feasts, and interactive friendship within their paradise domain. Unfortunately, Mak wants something more from this mundane way of life on their island, feeling isolated from the vast world and all its mysteries. By way of chance, excitement soon comes crashing onto the island in the form of Robinson Crusoe (Yuri Lowenthal), a recent shipwreck castaway who sets out to make a shelter for himself and his canine companion Aynsley (Doug Stone). Eager to discover more about this new arrival, Mak befriends Crusoe, while the rest of his animal’s friends study Crusoe cautiously, trying to make since of what this “human” is all about. While Crusoe settles into a routine, two cats from the shipwreck, May (Debi Tinsley) and Mel (Jeff Doucette), also enter the island, looking to feast upon Mak and his friends and settle a score with the human Crusoe as well.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Back when I was younger (I think in 5th or 6th grade), I remember reading Robinson Crusoe. Of course, it wasn’t the adult version, but rather the adapted “kids” version. Still, for the most part, it essentially told the same story that original classic told. And like I said, I’ve seeing several of the Robinson Crusoe TV shows and movies that were based off Defoe’s novel. As for The Wild life, I remember seeing the trailer for a few times (I think I first saw when I saw Finding Dory in theaters). My initial reaction to the trailer was not good as it didn’t have that much appeal or anything memorable to its runtime. Thus, my expectations for this movie was pretty low when I walked into this theater to watch this movie a few months later. After seeing, however, my expectations were right as The Wild Life has some positive moments to be had, but not nearly enough to invoke any sense of amazement and excitement. And for an animated cartoon movie that’s pretty bad.
The Wild Life (or Robinson Crusoe) is directed by Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen and is done by the small a nWave Pictures, a Belgian-French animation company that did several small features like Fly Me to the Moon and A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventure. Interestingly, Kesteloot and Stassen present The Wild Life from a different POV (told through the eyes of Make and his animals friends) than the usually protagonist point of Crusoe. In addition, since the movie is based off of Defoe’s Crusoe there’s a couple of nods to the original story (i.e. Crusoe arrives on the island with a dog (Aynsley) and two cats (May and Mel) and refers to Mak as Tuesday, a nod to the novel’s Friday character). Animation-wise, The Wild Life is a bright pallet of colors. While its animation design it’s quite hyper-real or incredibly detailed like Disney, Pixar, or a DreamWorks animation, but it gets the job done with some decent-looking background and scenery locales. Again, the film’s animation company didn’t have a huge production budget to begin with, so I do sort of give some positive bonus points with its background animation was well as the animal critters.
However, the problem with The Wild Life is that it just isn’t that good, developing a very uninteresting animated jaunt for 90 minutes, which feels way too long. Basically, the movie plays to the common troupes found in an animated cartoon film, with plenty of broad slapstick cartoon-ish comedy and kid-style shenanigans. This isn’t a bad thing, but (eventually) a film must make its own mark (its own identity) to discern itself from the rest. Unfortunately, The Wild Life doesn’t do that, which makes the film feel like a generic animated movie that feels unoriginal. Even with the whole Robinson Crusoe premise, the movie is just uninspiring with little to no joy to watch. I barely cracked a smile or laughed when I was watching this movie. Plus, I was getting bored with the movie, which personally is very hard for me as I do like all kinds of cartoon / animated features. Also, while I did praise the animation for the various animal characters / creatures, the animation of the “human” character models are clunky-looking and feel like it was done by a different animation company than nWave Pictures. Lastly, while the film is mostly “lighthearted” there is a one dark moment in the movie that seems out of place for a such a kid friendly feature. I could go on, but that’s basically it in a nutshell.
Then there the film’s ending, which I’m still upset about. It ends on an awkward place, putting an “unsettling feeling” on the film (as a whole) or they didn’t the filmmakers didn’t know how to end the feature and (ultimately) boxing themselves into a corner with no way out. It makes me believe that they were hoping that the film would get a sequel of some sort, leaving the narrative “hanging” without a proper conclusion, which would be potentially picked up in a future installment. To its effect, it does and certainly had the potential, but there’s really no desire to continue this movie (especially since how it is).
The voice acting in the movie doesn’t have the “star power” that most recent animated features have nowadays (i.e. today’s big name actors / actresses to lend their voices). Therefore, the voice cast of The Wild Life is mostly “no-name” ones, which is not technically a bad thing. However, the film’s voice work (as a collective whole) is a mixed bag, ranging from okay to mediocre, with a couple of standout performances (but again…. nothing truly spectacular). David Howard Thornton does the voice for Mak, the sort of “main character / protagonist” of the movie and does a good job at it, providing the most “lively” voice of the bunch. In truth, Thornton’s voice sounds kind of similar to voice actor James Arnold Taylor (I actually thought it was him when I first heard Mak talk). Behind him (in terms of voice acting), are Debi Tinsley and Jeff Doucette, who play the two feline bad guys (May and Mel). These two do good job and, like Thornton’s Mak, are lively in their vocal performances. It must also be noted that Doucette also does the voice for the echidna Scrubby, who also sounds fine.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast in The Wild Life are pretty bland. The rest of Mak’s friends (voiced by Hinze, Metzger, Fox, and Berzins) sound very “wooden” and amateur-ish in nature. The same can be said with the Yuri Lowenthal, who voices Robinson Crusoe. Again, these actors seem lackadaisical in their voicing and, despite their attempt to bring life to these “colorful” characters, it just sounds awkward.
The saying “a new spin on an old classic” is the guiding premise for the animated feature The Wild Life. Directors Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen cartoon feature of Defoe’s iconic novel has a fun set-up of telling Crouse’s island adventure through the indigenous animals that live there. Unfortunately, beyond a couple of minor positives (and some throwaway nuances from the book), the movie itself is pretty bad, feeling unoriginal, uninspiring, and downright uninteresting. From its odd pacing, to its flat jokes, to its weird animation, to its unremarkable voice talents, to its awkward ending, The Wild Life just comes up short (way short). To me, the movie was bland and (plain and simple). It didn’t have anything special or memorable to it and didn’t even offer up anything new or innovate to bring to the “animation genre” table. Thus, I would say that this movie is a definite “skip” (it’s not even worth a glance). While Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe made by a literature classic, but The Wild Life is pretty forgetful, disappearing into cartoon obscurity and fading out of sight and out of mind. In short, just read Defoe’s novel (you’ll be glad that you did).
2.3 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: September 9th, 2016 (USA release date)
Reviewed On: September 28th, 2016
The Wild Life is rated PG for mild action/peril and some rude humor