Still enthused about our forthcoming Disney World vacation (and not only me, of course: Our three year old daughter is starting to tell strangers that she ‘s going there), I went to see the animated movie The Wild last night. It is under the “Walt Disney Pictures” banner, and even rated G, so I expected it to be a picture for the whole family, of which the studio is proud, and that it may help keep me in the Disney mood.
Disappointed am I. It’s mediocre and has just about nothing in common with the Walt Disney legacy. To be sure, it is not unusually offensive (the way the usually superb Ron Howard offended me with his witless and crude destruction of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas). It is just irritating and amateurish in its writing and direction. For those of you who know something about animation, has no one informed the director “Spaz” (his self-chosen moniker) or any of the animators the concept of the “hold”? A “hold” in animation is when the movement stops for a moment to emphasize an expression or an attitude or a gesture. It is priceless when used well (and gives the animator a few frames worth of a break, besides). Perhaps the all time masters of the hold in animation are Chuck Jones (think of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner), Tex Avery, and Bob Clampett during the golden age of Warner Brothers cartoons.
The Wild has a total of zero holds. Everyone and everything is moving twenty-four times every second from movie’s beginning to end. Who can watch that? My eyes just couldn’t take it. The attitudes and gestures were all there. They were just there ten times more often than any human mind could process.
But that could be forgiven if the story was clever, conveyed a meaningful theme and was told with clarity, drama, and humor.
Instead of clarity, every sentence of dialogue was written to sound ironic or sarcastic or “funny” or “witty,” never actually achieving real humor or wit. It’s hard to know what any character really wants if they never express themselves clearly and simply. (I suppose once in a while they did, but that was the exception.) There is no attempt to make the squirrel’s romantic crush remotely believable, and the father-son theme is trite as can be. Finally, there is so much slapstick violence (characters get hurt a lot) that I almost question the G rating. It’s a valid rating but the film is definitely too full of scares (like the far superior The Incredibles) for anyone under age 7. (This is not new in the Disney tradition, as Snow White, Bambi, Sleeping Beauty and maybe Peter Pan are also too intense for the very young).
There is no less artistry required to make a kid’s comedy animation than any adult movie. In fact, more awareness of one’s all-ages audience is required to make it entertaining and meaningful rather than irritating, boring or traumatizing. The theme of The Wild, trite as it is, has potential value but it’s ineffectively communicated.
I think “Spaz” and his crew believed they had a film so full of roll-on-the-floor belly-laughs it would excuse the flimsiness of the story. Unfortunately they were mistaken. This was not a Pixar movie if you didn’t figure that out yet. The good news is, Pixar is back in business with Disney and we can look forward to their consistently superior material, starting with “Cars” for which I have high expectations.