The Wild Thornberrys Movie
review by Elias Savada, 13 December 2002
latest Nickelodeon theatrical cartoon feature is the first in a
no-doubt successful franchise based on its hit half-hour
adventure-driven TV series about a carrot-topped, pig-tailed,
bespectacled, freckle-faced (four symmetrically aligned on each
cheek) girl with a mouthful of dental braces who travels the world
with her world-famous documentary filmmaking parents. There's peril
at every corner and fun at every food fight. Yeah, there's even some
flatulence from a horse appropriately named Thunder and some totally
innocent bathroom humor. Never meant to be raucous, and perhaps
laden with a few too many musical overludes, The Wild Thornberrys Movie is very much a totally pleasing piece. At
a Saturday morning preview, it was obvious the producers have
fashioned an eighty-minute African adventure ride that kept nearly
every child seat-bound and squirm-free, including two often squiggly
neighbor's boys in my custody. Fans of the show, their parents, and
even kids not privy to the Nick channel will find this a rousing
venture about a Dolittlesque girl named Eliza who talks to the
regulars who have voiced the Thornberry family the last four years
on cable television are back: Lacey Chabert as the punky
twelve-year-old star; Jodi Carlisle as her semi-protective mom
Marianne; Tim Curry (his often villainous nature locked safely in a
hall closet) is the soft-hearted, light-headed, sarcasm-deprived dad
Nigel; Australian-born Flea, a.k.a. Michael Balzary, a Red Hot Chili
Pepper, provides the manic ramblings of Borneo bushbaby/wild thing
Donnie Thornberry, an animated variation of SNL's Chris Kattan's Mr
Peepers, replacing late-night dry-humping with PG-rated
wedgie-pulling; Danielle Harris as the teenage rebel/Valley Girl,
sibling rival, and reluctantly-just-as-heroic-as-her-sister Debbie;
and Tom Kane as Darwin, Eliza's playfully troublesome, yet forever
faithful, kemo sabe chimp.
feature family members include Nigel's Scottish parents, Colonel
Radcliffe and Cordelia (Lynn Redgrave), comfortable sipping tea or
parachuting into the action (alas the new china doesn't make as
successful a landing). Rupert Everett and Marisa Tomei add their own
audacious mix as Sloan and Bree Blackburn, bold outbackers whose
proximity to the stealthy savannah skirmishes is just a tad too
incidental for at least one adult viewer.
"guest stars" would be the family of adorable cheetahs
mothered by Akela (Alfre Woodard), with the cutest of her brood,
Tally, being cubnapped by a gang of airborne poachers. The critter
becomes the center of Eliza's quest for absolution, as she feels
responsible for the cat's snatching while under her playful care.
Even a forced exile at Lady Beatrice School, a British boarding
school (with an impetuous friend as stowaway in her baggage), can't
keep her from finagling her way back to Africa to find the feline.
The perilous road to Nairobi gets progressively muddied as the
various members of the Thornberry family stave off a large scale
elephant massacre in the Dembo Valley.
Malkasian -- having been one of the nearly dozen directors who
worked on the series -- and Jeff McGrath -- a creative producer on
the The Wild Thornberrys: The Origin of Donnie telefeature and a
director for its cutting edge predecessor series Rugrats -- keep their debut as feature
directors quickly paced and brightly lit. You don't mess with a
success product. The sequences are short and the colors primary,
with Rugrat veteran Kate
Boutilier's script heavy in the social message area without pounding
it mercilessly into the little noggins watching from the audience.
Having not seen the series, I suspect the film version is
compellingly and corporately close to the tone and characters
created by Gabor Csupo and former wife Arlene Klasky (also
responsible for the Rugrats -- who will costar together in next summer's Rugrats
Meet the Wild Thornberrys) and their comic compatriots Steve
Pepoon, David Silverman, and Stephen Sustarsic.
soundtrack ain't half bad either, with Paul Simon providing a new
single, Father and Daughter,
and Peter Gabriel, Sting, Dave Matthews, among others, contributing.
These musicians apparently were drawn to the project by its heavy
anti-poaching, pro-wildlife storyline set in the African Serengeti.
The filmmakers also put Tom Jones' rendition of Paul Anka's She's
a Lady to hilarious advantage when Darwin must dress up for a
room full of uniformed girls.
the Disney ship is sinking under the weight of its $140-million Treasure
Planet's dismal box office showing, Nickelodeon's parent
Paramount is picking up the animated slack with this admirable,
modestly-budgeted ($35 million) picture that should draw adequately
from its target audience of young cable devotees, particularly young
girls wary of Harry Potter
or uninterested in the continuing adventures of Frodo Baggins and
his magical ring. Meanwhile, the prospects for the holiday entry for
Paramount's other feature series, Star
Trek: Nemesis, appears as dim as The
Wild Thornberrys Movie bright.
PG - Parental
Some material may
not be appropriate