Directors Vincent Kesteloot & Ben Stassen/2016
The Wild Life is the latest adaptation of Robinson Crusoe, this time in animated form, from the perspective of the animals that inhibit the small island he finds himself marooned on. It is a joint project from Belgium and France, though the film is being released in English and distributed by Lionsgate here in the United States.
From the looks of the trailers, I have to admit that I didn’t expect a whole lot. An animated film, being released after school has resumed, and not being released by the usual studios (Disney/Pixar, Dreamworks Animation, etc.), didn’t bode well at all. To me, it looked like a mash-up of Rio, and Angry Birds, with a little Robinson Crusoe thrown in. Fortunately, I found the film to be a pleasant surprise, and I was truly engaged throughout its 90 minute run time.
The story follows Robinson Crusoe (voiced by Matthias Schweighöfer) as an adventurer who longs to sail the seas to see the world, even if he is prone to seasickness. Accompanied by his trusty dog, Robinson is excited about the destination, if only they could move past the journey. When a storm comes upon their ship, the crew is lost at sea and only Robinson, his dog, and two evil-minded cats (all who were below deck at the time) have survived. With the ship smashed against the rocks, Robinson seeks to salvage what he can so that he can survive, and then be rescued to continue to his worldly adventures.
While this film will not be in line to win any awards, and will not revolutionize the idea of what an animated film is, it does succeed as pure escapism that is safe for the entire family to enjoy, especially the younger viewers who might be in the theater.
The tale is told from the perspective of Tuesday, a parrot on the island, who is recounting his involvement with Crusoe from the time he crashed into their island to the present time, when Crusoe has been captured by Pirates. Tuesday, named that by Crusoe but previously called Mac by his friends, is a Parrot with big dreams. Like Crusoe, he longs to see the world. The only problem is that he is stuck on this tiny island in the middle of the ocean, too far for him to fly to other lands, despite giving it his best shot.
The other animals on the island think that he is believing a fairy tale. They only know the island life, and based on their limited experience, there is nothing else “out there”. Mac’s belief that life exists beyond their world is just a fantasy….until Robinson Crusoe comes crashing onto their beach, confirming Mac’s beliefs to be true.
The rest of the story unfolds as these skeptical animals learn to trust this strange new human, especially after being lied to by the cats who use the other animal’s fear to do their bidding in killing Crusoe and his trusty dog. The adventure plays out as the cats plot and scheme, and both Crusoe and the other animals try to survive against the plots of these dastardly feline antagonists, and the natural elements, against the odds so that Robinson Crusoe can be rescued from his fate.
The film was screened for me in 2D, though it is being advertised as containing “eye-popping 3D” animation. The animation is very good, though compared to more of the giant animated tentpole work of studios like Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, it might not seem like it. It would be interesting to see it in the much-advertised 3D, though I don’t think that it is necessary to enjoy the film.
Overall, this film is a giant step forward from the directors’ previous animated fare like A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures, and A Turtle’s Tale 2: Sammy’s Escape from Paradise. Even though they borrow their animated animal’s individual personalities and idiosyncrasies from other films, it largely works to the desired effect of crafting a film that will mostly be enjoyed by the entire family.
This version of the Robinson Crusoe tale is sanitized a bit to make it suitable for younger children, wiping out any storylines of cannibals, though they are briefly mentioned as a fear by some of the human characters. Crusoe is also seen more as a lovable, yet inept bloke, instead of the more daring adventurer from the original novel. Of course, this can easily be forgiven since it is told from the vantage point of an animated parrot.
While this film will not be in line to win any awards, and will not revolutionize the idea of what an animated film is, it does succeed as pure escapism that is safe for the entire family to enjoy, especially the younger viewers who might be in the theater. Other than some smaller DVD titles, The Wild Life is one of the first animated films to be distributed by Lionsgate, along with Norm of the North. It is a safe, yet sure bet for a studio that may be trying to find its sea legs so to speak on whether it will be able to wade into the animated waters in the future and compete with some of the larger animated studios.