The Wild Life (2016)

Genres - Adventure  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Comedy  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - Belgium , France   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Jack Rodgers

It's the hot new trend sweeping cinema right now: Take source material that's in the public domain, add a twist that purports to tell the real tale you hadn't heard before (usually a convoluted origin story), then do the bare minimum to release a feature-length film. No matter how many times it fails, the studios keep trying -- witness the Peter Pan prequel Pan, or The Legend of Tarzan's attempts to roll back the colonialist underpinnings of its title character -- which is why we're getting a new spin on Robinson Crusoe from Belgian animation house nWave, who are hoping today's kids want more backstory to an adventure yarn written in 1719.

This version is told from the point-of-view of the animals living on the tropical island where Crusoe ends up shipwrecked; they're the ones able to exist in harmony with nature, while Crusoe himself has been downgraded from a skilled survivalist to a klutz who can't even build stable shelves for his new island home (he also proves unwilling to kill in order to feed himself, which might be necessary for the pro-animal-sidekick plot, but still feels very unbelievable). Roughly one montage later, the castaway has somehow built a beautiful tree house that allows him and his beastly new friends to live in the lap of luxury, and a few short scenes after that, the arboreal hideout is destroyed in a series of Rube Goldberg-esque mishaps when it's attacked by a family of cats.

The Wild Life is so inept that it feels like huge chunks of it are missing: The main character, a parrot dubbed "Tuesday" by Crusoe, provides voice-over narration that fills in information apparently found in the deleted scenes, while the ending is so hilariously abrupt you'll wonder if the animators just ran out of money and decided to ignore the fact that two different sets of villains are still scheming against Crusoe as the credits roll. (Speaking of which: Those credits consist of still frames of animation and voice-overs that detail another whole movie's worth of plot developments.) There are, to be fair, the occasional moments when it seems like The Wild Life is trying to explore what survival really means -- a kingfisher named Kiki points out that the animals are growing dependent on Crusoe for their decadent new lifestyle, which won't be sustainable when he leaves; the two evil cats are parents just trying to provide for their hungry litter -- and some of the action scenes manage to convey a real sense of energy and danger. But that isn't nearly enough to make up for the blah character designs, stiff animation, lackluster voice cast (it seems not even the most D-list of celebrities wanted to be associated with this film), or a script whose attempts at humor feel straight out of an elementary-school joke book. If your kids are somehow way into Robinson Crusoe, show them Disney's 1960 Swiss Family Robinson instead.